Divorced from reality: why BBC1's new drama The Split fails as feminist escapism
"I feel that I am expected to love The Split simply because its three main characters are women," says Alison Graham, "yet they all still talk about men all of the time"
I’m in torment. I’m lost in a vortex of pointless obsession because I hate every single one of the jackets in The Split. That white one that divorce solicitor Hannah (Nicola Walker) wears, the one that makes her look like a 1950s provincial butcher? I hate it.
The pink thing wronged decent wife Goldie (Meera Syal) wears to her divorce court hearing in Tuesday’s episode? I hate that one, too. In fact, there’s a scene where all the women are wearing jackets and I can’t stand a single one.
But wait, of course, the jackets aren’t the real problem here (though they are truly horrible). No, it’s The Split itself. I have a visceral antipathy towards Abi Morgan’s divorce drama.
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I think it’s all the posturing and fake insights. “A pre-nup is written by the head when the heart has forgotten it once loved,” Hannah said last week. The words came from her mouth, not from a really inappropriate greetings card, which is surely where they belong.
Now, I’m sure that The Split could be viewed as glossy escapism, what with all the expensive clothes (not the jackets, though) and the shoes and the handbags and the lovely houses. Hannah, it has to be said, has the most amazing kitchen.
I bow to no one in my love for glossy escapism, particularly glossy escapism featuring women who gather around bottles of wine to make said fake insights. (See Mistresses, that great beacon of female-centric nonsense, which is one of my all-time favourite flu-viewing box sets. It helps to have a slight fever when you watch it.)
But I feel that I am expected to love The Split simply because its three main characters – sisters Hannah, Nina and Rose – are women. Hey, look, it’s a Lady-Drama, let’s make Aperol Spritzes and do each other’s hair.
The women in The Split are supposedly modern and independent, and yet they all still talk about men all of the time. And the men they talk about are TV drama drips. Rose’s poorly caricatured fiancé (he has a perpetual sniff, he’s a bit nerdy, he’s a little gauche) is just a joke figure who would rightly provoke outrage if the roles were reversed. There’s even a wet Church of England vicar who’s staggered out of a 1970s sitcom. I’m not religious, but I’m offended on behalf of everyone who is.
Hannah is a top-flight divorce solicitor who makes oodles of money, has a lovely husband (played by Stephen Mangan) and that great kitchen, and yet still makes limpid eyes at an ex-lover, a smooth, boring foreigner who works at the same firm but looks as if he’s got lost on his way to The Bridge. Or possibly The Killing. (Yes, I know actor Barry Atsma is Dutch, not Swedish or Danish, don’t write in.
But why does Hannah behave like this? The script gives us no clues. It feels so wrong; she has a good marriage and, again, a great kitchen. Why throw an ex in her way, like a bag of recycling that’s missed the collection?
If there are to be more dramas powered by women (and hooray, yes there flipping well should be, both in front of and behind the cameras, which in fairness The Split truly is, with female directors and executives), then they must say something. They have to be good, they can’t let themselves be dismissed by people like me. Come on, this is our time, so let’s get these shows right.