I am hooked on BBC productions. Movies, television, you name it. I’ve been through many mini-series', period pieces like The Forsyte Saga, Berkeley Square and Cranford. I recently found a contemporary show on Netflix: William and Mary, starring Martin Clunes and Julie Graham. It aired for three seasons and when I finished the last episode, I went into mourning.
An undertaker and a midwife, both single parents to teenagers, meet through a dating service—a beautiful juxtaposition, especially since in olden times, as William later points out to Mary, midwives served both functions. From the first scene, conflict and misunderstanding are center stage.
At Mary’s first set up—not with William—her date’s wife shows up. Mary charges into the dating service’s office and demands her money back, but they convince her to go on one more date with William, who wanted to meet only her. Meanwhile, the owner has instructed William to say he’s in community service rather than divulge he’s an undertaker. After an intimate second date, Mary’s called to the home where her cancer-ridden postpartum client has died. Who comes to the house while Mary is with the grieving father? William. She’s furious at what she considers a lie, especially since it’s the second time she’s been deceived. William mails an apology, but her busybody live-in mother confiscates the letter. Just as one conflict is resolved, another appears.
I’ve read about upping the stakes for characters. When things seem as bad as they can get, heap some more on them. That’s what agent Donald Maass writes in both The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel and it’s done brilliantly here.
Since I loved William and Mary so much, I thought I’d try another with the excellent Martin Clunes. In Doc Martin, Clunes plays former London surgeon Martin Ellingham who leaves the big city to be local G.P. for Portwenn, a small fishing town on the gorgeous Cornwall coast, a place I’ve wanted to visit since reading about it in one of my favorite books, The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher. He’s cranky and arrogant, but he has a secret: The sight of blood makes him ill. The town’s quirky and endearing residents suffer more medical (physical and mental) problems than in any big city. He’s intrigued by the beautiful head teacher at the town’s school, but his arrogance and candid behavior (after an all night vigil at the hospital for one of the residents, they share a kiss and he asks her, "Are you aware you have halitosis?") infuriates her. The writing is spectacular, real and gritty. Conflict and dark humor, double check. Luckily, they’re still filming this one. The next season comes out on DVD at the beginning of February.
I don’t know what it is about BBC television, but I’m on the search for more. Anyone have suggestions?