Oooh, I love a broken taboo. Don’t you? Doesn’t everyone? In fact you rarely ever see the word “taboo” without its racy accompaniment, that word “broken” which has all the promise of forbidden delights. Television in particular loves to get a bit naughty every now and again when, like a madman at a bus stop, it shouts, “Look, look! There’s a taboo, let’s smash it to bits and set the whole lot on fire!”
There’s the faint aroma of burning boundaries around ITV1’s new drama Leaving (Monday), starring Helen McCrory as Julie, a hotel catering events deputy manager who falls for a man young enough to be her son (newcomer Callum Turner). The added piquancy is that she’s working class and married to a blue-collar worker and he’s posh and single, so sexual AND class barriers are broken. If you haven’t seen the programme yet, you’ll have probably have seen the trailers, which might have made you think “Well hello, what have we here? I’ll warrant this all looks rather enjoyably sordid.”
In truth, though, Leaving is really rather decorous – it is ITV1 after all, which can’t frighten the population with anything too squalid. Though it’s an older woman/younger man, he’s 21 and she’s 40(ish). Twenty-one is a lot less problematical for a mainstream TV channel doing a drama about forbidden love than, say 18 or 17 or even 16. And 40(ish) is a lot less problematical than her being, say 50, 60 or even 70. People wouldn’t like that, oh no they wouldn’t.
But of course, this would all be perfectly all right if the roles were reversed and he was an old fella looking for love and finding it with a younger woman. This is all absolutely fine and nobody minds a bit and if you do object then you are dismissed as a mean-minded sexist hypocrite and what’s the matter with you, don’t you want people to be happy?
The problem with Leaving (which, incidentally, is written by the masterly Tony Marchant who wrote Take Me Home back in 1989 about an older man finding love with a younger woman – remember it, it starred Keith Barron and Maggie O’Neill?) is that it feels a bit afraid of its own premise. It’s curiously passionless. Yes, the “boy”, Aaron, does push Julie up against a pillar as they have a snog in the first episode, but it’s not going to give Fifty Shades of Grey anything to worry about. (I assume; I haven’t read it. No, I haven’t, so you can take that look off your face.)
I think in its earnest wish not to be seen as prurient, Leaving actually comes across as rather chaste and not particularly sexy. Aaron and Julie could be pen pals, albeit pen pals who occasionally (so we are led to believe – we don’t actually see anything too outré in the first episode) take off their clothes while they are alone together in the same room. And she didn’t make the first you move, by the way, he did, so she’s not some predatory Mrs Robinson type.
Still I’m glad that it’s a good role for Helen McCrory and a good role for a more mature actress that doesn’t involve her being dismembered by a serial killer or wearing a bonnet and pouring tea in a parlour. Small mercies, but we should be grateful. @TVAlisonGraham
Leaving starts on ITV1 tonight at 9pm.