This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.


It might seem rude to say of a writer/director that his work looks neither written nor directed. But in the BBC Two comedy drama Mum, Stefan Golaszewski achieved an extraordinary low-key realism – more like being than acting – as Lesley Manville’s 59-year-old widow Kathy was tentatively courted by old friend Michael, played by Peter Mullan.

In Golaszewski’s latest project, Marriage, both husband and wife, Ian (Sean Bean) and Emma (Nicola Walker), are still alive, but their relationship may not be. And as in Mum, everyday actions – shopping, watching TV, cleaning teeth before bed, etc – reveal complex doubts and desires through short sentences and long silences.

“My aim is to get the actor to behave as people would in real life rather than in a way that would be most useful to the audience to make clear what is going on,” Golaszewski explains. “In so many shows the actor is encouraged to do the storytelling, to put a sort of highlighter pen over the character’s intentions or emotions. My note to actors is just do what the person is doing in that moment.”

Landing Walker and Bean, fresh from their triumphs in Unforgotten and Jimmy McGovern’s prison drama Time respectively, is, he says, a showrunner’s dream come true.

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“I was incredibly lucky to get those two actors. People like Sean and Nicola – also Lesley and Peter in Mum – you don’t audition them, you just offer the part. So you don’t quite know what they will bring into the room and, in all cases, it was better than I could possibly have imagined.”

Stefan Golaszewski and Nicola Walker filming Marriage
Stefan Golaszewski and Nicola Walker filming Marriage BBC / The Forge / Rory Mulvey

The theme of Marriage is the micro-aggressions and micro-affections that mark a long marriage. Ian and Emma have been together for 30 years, but the show’s title alludes to other marriages, too: one mourned by Emma’s widowed father (James Bolam in a moving cameo), another that might be made by the couple’s daughter to a man they detest.

“It’s supposed to be a network of reflections about relationships. Marriage, I guess, is the institutionalisation of togetherness. I’ve been married 10 years and what fascinates me about marriage as an idea is that it is basically impossible. What I love about going to a wedding is seeing two people taking a leap into the unknown and trying to spend the rest of their lives together. That’s an incredibly complicated thing to achieve. It’s the sheer difficulty that makes the idea beautiful.”

Golaszewski’s first success, the BBC Three sitcom Him & Her, about a 20-something couple, played by Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani, falling in love, was directed by Richard Laxton. But for Mum and Marriage, the writer came from behind the desk to go behind the camera. “I wanted to direct because, although it might seem an odd point to make, TV is a visual medium and writers tend to think verbally. So I wanted to direct in order to get both sides.”

Sean Bean and Nicola Walker in Marriage.
Sean Bean and Nicola Walker in Marriage BBC / The Forge / Rory Mulvey

There are scenes in Marriage in which the couple fill and empty a dishwasher that are typical of the way Golaszewski puts domesticity on screen. Is every move of dish and spoon specified in his scripts or does he simply ask Bean and Walker to attend to the dishwasher?

“Somewhere between the two. Some bits have their own stage direction – ‘Takes cup off table’, etc – but then when we get to the location and I see exactly what the kitchen looks like, I’ll work out what’s in every cupboard. It’s a bit tricky, really, working out where you would logically keep the stuff and where I need them to be in the room for the camera. So the script will say, ‘Puts a bowl in, closes dishwasher, she brings in another bowl, opens dishwasher, closes it.’

“There’s a kind of rhythm to it. Because the show is so still and observed – and the camera doesn’t move unless it has to – I’m always looking to get some dynamism in so it doesn’t completely become a still life.”

After Mum and Marriage, might there be a third hyper-realistic M-word comedy or drama? Mortality? Murder? “I’ve got no idea. I keep squeezing the lemon, but the lemon’s dry. I’m going away for the summer and hope something will come after that. I can only write what my mind tells me to write. Which means I’ve had to turn down quite good offers of work because I can’t write it unless it comes from inside.”

Marriage stars Nicola Walker and Sean Bean on Radio Times cover

Marriage will air on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Sunday 14th August at 9pm. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.


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