Maryland review: Suranne Jones drama is a welcome throwback
There's lots to like in this old-school family drama, but a rushed resolution lets it down.
Speaking with Suranne Jones last month about her new ITV drama Maryland, the star and creator told RadioTimes.com and other press that she and co-creator Anne-Marie O'Connor "just wanted to make quite an old-fashioned kind of show – the stuff that I watched when I was growing up".
Mission accomplished. Maryland is exactly that, a kitchen sink-style family drama of the sort we haven't seen in a long time. After so many historical dramas, twists on formulas and loud, showy series, it's a genuine breath of fresh air.
Maryland tells the story of Becca, played by Jones, and Rosaline, played by Eve Best, two sisters who have grown apart when they are informed that their mother has been found dead on the Isle of Man.
The kicker? Neither the sisters nor their father Richard (a devastating George Costigan) knew that she was there, or have any sense of why she would be.
As Becca and Rosaline descend on the island to identify their mother's body and repatriate her, they uncover secrets not only about their mother Mary's life, but also about one another.
It's a story straddling a number of central themes, but all of them are wrapped up in the context of a family unit and family drama.
There's the mystery surrounding Mary's death and her presence on the island, as well as the grief that the sisters are struggling with following it. There's the tension between the two sisters, and the unspoken history between them.
And then there's the matters surrounding their individual lives – Rosaline is work-driven but struggling with a secret medical concern and Becca's family oriented, but her marriage and daily parenting struggles are beginning to grind.
All these plotlines interweave nicely, as the central confusion surrounding Mary's death helps to expose buried resentments on all fronts.
The whole cast is terrific, but Jones and Best in particular are phenomenal in these role. They are both forced to show great emotional range throughout, yet no matter how big their performances go it never comes off as an acting showpiece – they truly sink into these roles.
Jones brings a vulnerability and a restlessness to Becca, while Best is steely and pragmatic as Rosaline – at first. Needless to say, both characters go on substantive emotional journeys, with the stars navigating through from A to B seamlessly.
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In tackling issues around grief, trauma and familial bonds with such nuance and grace, the drama builds up a lot of good will. It is therefore somewhat a shame that the ending feels a bit of a letdown.
In the first two episodes the pacing feels purposefully gradual, allowing the viewer to immerse themself fully in the lives of these characters, while also soaking in the thematic beats around grief and the things which remain unsaid.
Then, around halfway through the third episode, the tempo suddenly shifts upwards, with everything seemingly rushing to meet the finish line.
All questions are resolved to a point, but with answers which don't always feel satisfactory. That's OK – life rarely gives cathartic answers and this mirrors what the daughters will be feeling.
The problem is that the character beats also feel rushed towards the end. Characters make big statements and bold, life-altering decisions seemingly out of nowhere, simply because the plot demands it and the clock is ticking. Meanwhile, a character makes a declaration which seems destined to lead, eventually, to a clash of wills – and nothing comes of it.
In focusing so heavily on the dynamic between the sisters and the wider family, the finale also leaves the supporting cast somewhat out in the cold.
While Dean Lennox Kelly gets a little more to play with as taxi driver Jacob, Stockard Channing and Hugh Quarshie largely fade into obscurity, with the major stars and gifted performers relegated to the odd scene here or there.
Still, regardless of its rushed denouement, Maryland is still an impressively affecting series, a rough-around-the-edges slice of domestic drama with gorgeous scenery and a dedication to old-school thematic storytelling at its core.
It also walks a tonal tightrope beautifully, allowing viewers to get caught up in the sadness and the grief at the heart of the story without letting it overwhelm things. There's still a lightness of touch here, no doubt helped by the sensibilities of screenwriter Anne-Marie O'Connor, known previously for comedies such as Trollied and Hullraisers.
It's not going to blow your socks off or leave you stunned by audacious twists, but what it will do is get you to care about these two sisters, to the extent that spending a few hours in their company, even while they're going through the most difficult of circumstances, seems a delightful proposition.
Maryland debuts on ITV1 at 9pm on Monday 22nd May, with the full series then becoming available on ITVX. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.
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