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THIS WEEK REVIEW: ITV Drama Flesh and Blood, filmed on location in Normans Bay


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image credit: ITV: The cast of Flesh and Blood. Imelda Staunton as Mary, Claudie Blakley as Helen, Lydia Leonard as Natalie, Francesca Annis as Vivien, Ayden Beale as Aaron, Russell Tovey as Jake, Mia Lloyd as Maddie and Grace Hogg-Robinson as Lily.

Cluedo for the #MeToo Generation:  The first episode of Flesh and Blood last night (Monday 24 February), filmed in out of the way Normans Bay, left local viewers on the edge of their groynes

The ripping yarn which will unravel over the next three days, will reach the denouement on Thursday when we discover who is in the body bag discovered on the beach in plain sight of Martello Tower 55 in Normans Bay.

We are not supposed to know the location of the new drama.

Louise Hooper, the director has said ““I wanted it to be like a modern parable, you’ve got the sea – which you’ve got no control over – you’ve got the shingle and the two houses. A bit like a theatre stage, you’ve got the characters that come into that. There’s no town or city, we’re not anchored to anything so it floats in its own little heightened story… We’re trying to do something different from the gritty, monochromatic noir which is very plot and detail driven. It’s something which is light and funny and joyful I hope”.

Of course to local people as they see the two houses side by side on the beach where the story takes place, the beach scenes with the shingle and golden sunsets, the location is clearly identifiable as Normans Bay in all the glorious idiosyncratic stark beauty of the place.

The story is an accomplished piece of writing. “Not exactly”, as Imelda Staunton, one of the stellar cast actors, described the plot on the One Show last Friday a “who dun it, but more a who dun what”.

We do not know at this stage if we witnessed a body on the beach. At present the person is described as ‘critically ill’. We have no idea what has happened. The story is told in reverse, with the neighbour (Imelda Staunton) talking about her shock at what has happened, having known the family for forty years.

But everything, we know already, is not quite as things seem.

The neighbour is not quite the twinkly old lady with a good heart that she seems to be, standing in her lovely greenhouse on the beach watering her plants and living her life of bliss in this little hidden jewel in the crown of Sussex  that is the beachside heaven of Normans Bay.

The story is a kind of Cluedo for the MeToo Generation.

The characters are expertly drawn by writer, Sarah Williams.

The focus for the story is Vivien, a 60-something widow who is determined to live her life to the full by enjoying her newfound independence. However, her three adult children become immediately suspicious of her budding romance with retired surgeon Mark, played with impish quietitude by Stephen Rea.

The part of Vivien is played by Francesca Annis with beautiful depth, intelligence and wit.

We see Vivian in all her sensual 60-something glory. Refreshing to see such a well crafted lead role for a woman scripted in her sixties.

In talking about why she took on the part, Francesca Annis emphasised the female driven script. She told Megan Hutton at Good Housekeeping, “I liked that this wasn’t an angst-stricken part – I’ve played quite a few of those. I loved the script and when I met Louise and Sarah Williams, (the writer) and it was very much going to be a female-driven project I thought that was just wonderful. Louise promised she would be very open to suggestion and empowering and that’s exactly what she was. I thought that made the whole project for me quite an exciting adventure.”

There is the stellar cast. including Harry Potter’s Imelda Staunton, Russell Tovey, Francesca Annis and Stephen Rea. The three three siblings are Natalie (Lydia Leonard), Helen (Claudie Blakley) and Jake (Russell Tovey)

The original thriller is a modern story of three adult siblings, exploring universal themes of relationships, trust, loyalty and love against the backdrop of the build-up to, and aftermath of, a tragic crime.

The already dysfunctional lives of Helen, Jake and Natalie are thrown into disarray when their recently widowed mother Vivien declares she’s in love with a new man.

Their suspicions are heightened as retired surgeon Mark (Stephen Rea) sweeps their mother off her feet, shifting her priorities away from her children.

Years of secrets, lies, rivalries and betrayals are starting to come to the surface and threaten to blow apart everything they’ve held dear.

And we are only at the end of the first of four episodes.

And through it all, Vivien’s overly attentive neighbour Mary quietly watches on, unhealthily attached to them all, telling her story in a series of flashbacks, as the drama unfolds.

The focus for the first episode was on the twinkling lonely old lady next door played By Imelda Staunton telling the story of what what happened to the police. She seems so nice and straightforward, until we see her opening the post for her next door neighbour and slipping into a silk dressing gown that was never meant for her to wear.

The children, still grieving the loss of their father, are full on characters played with full force with modern complex lives outlined, as senior administrators of health trust, property developer administrators and personal trainers.

Stand out amongst the siblings is the role of Jake, played by Russell Tovey, played out in the first episode, a demonstration of brilliant seething corrosive toxic masculinity acted with gripping turmoil, as someone who is losing the plot line by line in front of our eyes.

The twisted stories of the siblings is a heady mix of dazzling possibilities, with the plot lines crossing over minute by minute like a piece of crazy paving that is a cracked abstract expressionist art installation attack on the wall of modern life.

The plot will clearly thicken day by day to Thursday.

This is a brilliant story, written with a great deal of skill and as the story unfolds, the nation will be gripped and wait to see how the story will end.

Local people, with the added dimension of the central part being played by the ‘anonymous’ Normans Bay as the coat of many colours backdrop, will no doubt be fired up by the story, seeing the scenes through their own lens, projected on to the idiosyncratic beauty of the place they know and love so well.

This is broadcast drama of the very best.

Has the jealousy of the siblngs exploded into murder? Is the seemingly lovely cracked neighbour hiding the truth that we do not yet know, Is she responsible for the murder (if there is a murder)?

Is the new suitor, the retried surgeon, played by Stephen Rea, who has won the heart of the widow, all that he seems, perched like a wounded parrot on the side of the family sofa, desperately trying to look relaxed, affable in his jeans, the man with the despotic plan?

We simply do know at this stage.

There are elements of Agatha Christie and Cluedo, we have two living rooms, a kitchen and conservatory already and we are only in the first episode. There are enough fully fledged,identifiable characters round the board, to keep us guessing every time the dice is thrown.

But what the writer said, Sarah Williams, stands.This is a modern parable told for the times in which we live. The characters are both flesh and blood and they all have their full fractured stories to tell, about what has happened, which we are seeing and hearing, night by night to Thursday.

By Thursday, presumably we will know more about the likelihood of the drama series being recommissioned. Such full on, fully formed characters and perhaps so many more parts of their stories tn tell. Already the possibiity of the series being recommissioned is being mentioned.

Thursday’s child has far to go.

Writer Sarah Williams suggested, prior to the broadcast, “with season one yet to air, questions are already being raised about a potential follow-up series. I could see myself revisiting the family”.

She added, “without explaining too much of what happens, there is further meat on the bone. I love these characters and I did get very attached to all of them. I would love to follow on their story, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves, we have to see if anyone watches this.”

The stark idiosyncratic beauty of Normans Bay looks set to become a known location in the pysche of the nation.

What the people of Normans Bay will make of their new found fame is another question.

Perhaps already today specialist literature and TV Tour companies in the country are planning day trips to Normans Bay to see the set where Flesh and Blood was filmed.

Flora Carr in the Radio Times in her review said “the real heart of this idiosyncratic show is its “essay on womanhood,” as described by director Louise Hooper during the show’s press launch and Q&A. Created, commissioned and produced by an all-female team, the show’s most interesting or unexpected moments during episode one all centre around its female characters.

She added, “marrying the familiar with blackly-comic twists, a stylish, cinematic backdrop, and irreverence towards conventional TV crime drama, ITV could well have a new hit on their hands.

Lucy Mangan in the Guardian gave the show four stars.She said ” gorge on this deliciously dread-filled thriller. Envy, turmoil and resentment make for the perfect recipe in this Imelda Staunton-led drama, which takes in a widow’s new romance, a mountain of family secrets – and a dead body”.

We asked four local resident pundits for their first night reviews. The first review is in this morning.

Maggie Geary who has a walk on part as an extra in the show said, “a drama for our times. Intriguing from the start. Love can blossom at any time!!! The siblings judging their mother’s new found love whilst they all have seemingly complex and not necessarily great love lives themselves.

She added,”the heroine’s love interest, Stephen Rea and its effect on her children beset with their own relationship problems gives a nice foretaste of things to come.

“The familiar and yet more unusual family problems emerge. Imelda Staunton plays the ever present nosy neighbour which adds to the intrigue!

“Well acted and produced with beautiful Pevensey Bay seascapes much to the forefront. Being present at the shooting, meeting some of the stars on such a wonderful summer’s day – it was exciting, memorable and makes the present day storms slightly more bearable. What will happen next – watch tonight- unmissable!”

The second of four episodes of Flesh and Blood is broadcast tonight (Tuesday 25 February) on ITV at 9:00pm.

Simon Montgomery