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Together review: Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy’s BBC drama is savagely funny – and completely devastating

The BBC Two film, about a couple in lockdown, distils a year’s worth of arguments and soul-searching.

Together
BBC
Published: Thursday, 17th June 2021 at 12:00 pm
A star rating of 4 out of 5.

In season one of BBC lockdown series Staged, the broadcaster pulled off a difficult feat: a comedy that still acknowledged the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The recurring subplot about Michael Sheen’s elderly neighbour eventually became the heart of the first season (and was missed in the second). The show's laughs were, in a way, a kind of Trojan horse for the darker moments.

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The broadcaster’s new one-off film Together, starring James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan as a couple in lockdown, is also billed as a ‘comedy-drama’. But in this case, the moments of darkness are tackled head-on.

There’s no need for a Trojan horse here; although perhaps the casting of comedic actress Horgan could be seen as such, because she delivers one of the most devastating to-camera monologues I’ve ever watched. (Where was she when the BBC was casting the recent Alan Bennett's Talking Heads?)

The 'comedy' and the 'drama' aspects are not only equally weighted, but seem to actively chafe and rub against each other. In another scene, McAvoy's character tells the viewer bawdy jokes, while Horgan's character separately attempts to have a serious conversation with us. It's like watching a TV comedy and a drama simultaneously, until eventually the overlapping monologues clash.

The marrying of two opposite tones and genres is mirrored by the central couple’s relationship: the unnamed couple (“She” and “He”) are complete opposites themselves.

"She" is a condescending charity worker with a socialist upbringing, while "He" is a conservative business owner who flaunts his cash and cruelly berates supermarket workers. Their conversation, and the show, bounces back and forth from the highest highs of spiky, quick-witted comedy, before turning on a dime and tackling the lowest of lows. Everything is taken to extremes.

Looking straight into the camera, “She” and “He” both freely admit to hating the other. They hate each other’s faces, can’t stand the idea of sex. Sharon Horgan’s character memorably compares “He” to "diarrhoea in a pint glass". They are savage, picking each other's character clean. There’s no mundane conversation between them, only the hilarious or the heartrending.

The unmarried couple had previously stayed together only for the sake of their son (a “curious, curious child” who, rather too conveniently for the show, is an introvert who barely makes any noise – another extreme, but one that jars). Now the couple are trapped inside the same suburban house, and unable to look away from their failing relationship.

Together
BBC

"She" and "He" are not like any couple you’ll know; and yet they are every couple. And I think that’s the point. The show distils a year’s worth of arguments and soul-searching into an hour and a half. The couple are never named, and nor is their hometown or city. The show’s creators wanted it to feel like these conversations could be happening anywhere.

The show also distils and charts the pandemic and the national lockdown. We have the ubiquitous multipacks of toilet paper, the hand-painted rainbows, and references to the Clap for Carers.

Together doesn’t shy away from more recent aspects of the pandemic either, seriously addressing how some members of the public have been falsely claiming to be key workers in order to queue-jump and obtain vaccines. (The film’s verdict? The act is "murky” at best, morally bankrupt at worst.)

Together is brave and brilliant, and in one segment succinctly explains the government’s delayed response to the pandemic (and one aspect in particular) in under two minutes. The film will make you angry. But as “He” asks, how much of that anger will dissipate post-pandemic? And how much, if anything, will really change?

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Together will air on Thursday 17th June on BBC Two. While you’re waiting, take a look at our other Drama coverage, or find out what else is on with our TV guide.

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