The A Word - Joe Hughes (MAX VENTO) - (C) Fifty Fathoms - Photographer: ROry Mulvey
The A Word – Joe Hughes (MAX VENTO) – (C) Fifty Fathoms – Photographer: Rory Mulvey

The family suffers a blow when police reveal that their ‘Polish’ helper Maya is, in fact, Ukrainian, and is living and working illegally in the UK. As Maya faces deportation, it’s a double loss for Alison: Maya’s presence makes her panic less, and she’s one of the few people Joe has really bonded with.

Poor little Joe. One of the very few people around him who doesn’t have a world of anxieties over his behaviour and is able to communicate with him is leaving. And Joe is unwittingly the cause of Maya’s deportation, having brought her to the attention of the police with his now familiar daily wander alone along the lonely country road.

The A Word - Nicola Daniels (VINETTE ROBINSON), Joe Hughes (MAX VENTO) - (C) Fifty Fathoms - Photographer: ROry Mulvey
The A Word – Nicola Daniels (VINETTE ROBINSON), Joe Hughes (MAX VENTO) – (C) Fifty Fathoms – Photographer: Rory Mulvey

The repercussions of Maya’s situation become huge to Joe’s mum, Alison. If there was a list of The Most Irritating TV Parents Ever, then Alison and husband Paul would be at the very least in the Top 10. Their lack of understanding when it comes to their son’s autism is at times staggering. Alison’s blind panic at the thought of Maya leaving leads her to take the most extreme action, including a teeth-baring attempt to threaten and bribe the local Police Inspector, Bob Heard (who is, coincidentally, her dad Maurice’s best buddy).

In the absence of knowing Joe’s thoughts on pretty much anything, both parents have always projected their own thoughts and feelings onto their son, “You like this, don’t you son?” they’ll say, while the viewer is screaming, “Erm, no, actually you like it!” at the screen. Here, Alison, feeling Maya’s looming departure acutely, is determined for Joe to have a significant emotional response (just like she’s having), while husband Paul is absolutely fine with Joe burying his feelings (just as he’s doing). Meanwhile, they’re both oblivious to the escalation in Joe’s rituals and behaviours as he’s very clearly demonstrating – in his own way – that he is feeling events around Maya.

The A Word - Joe Hughes (MAX VENTO) - (C) Fifty Fathoms - Photographer: ROry Mulvey
The A Word – Joe Hughes (MAX VENTO) – (C) Fifty Fathoms – Photographer: Rory Mulvey

The depiction of Joe quietly unravelling in the wake of events surrounding him is astonishingly well done.  Director Peter Cattaneo has achieved something quite remarkable in drawing out such a poignant, yet compelling, performance from little Max Vento who plays Joe.

In a small but prescient scene, Nicola asks Alison whether she’s observed other parents when she’s attended appointments with Joe, the implication being that having a child with autism can affect the parents’ relationship. This is a cue for a family, already strained to its limits, to begin what appears to be its final unravelling. Daughter Rebecca is seeking solace with Nicola and Eddie as well as her own dad, Stuart – played with gleeful smugness by Ralf Little.

Nicola and Eddie, continuing to re-build their marriage yet ironically one of the most together couples in town, have their own communication problems this week; Nicola is starting to feel at home in her new home while Eddie has had enough and is ready to move on. Please tell us these two make it! Vinette Robinson and Greg McHugh are absolutely terrific playing this couple’s delicate dance to save their marriage.

The A Word - Joe Hughes (MAX VENTO), Alison Hughes (MORVEN CHRISTIE), Nicola Daniels (VINETTE ROBINSON), PC Laing (LEE THOMAS) - (C) Fifty Fathoms - Photographer: ROry Mulvey
The A Word – Joe Hughes (MAX VENTO), Alison Hughes (MORVEN CHRISTIE), Nicola Daniels (VINETTE ROBINSON), PC Laing (LEE THOMAS) – (C) Fifty Fathoms – Photographer: Rory Mulvey

While Alison snarls her way around town, nostrils flared, trying every ploy she can think of to stop Maya being deported (she doesn’t consider Maya having a ‘premature marriage’ to an ex-boyfriend to be unreasonable), the giant chestnut tree that her little acorn fell from – Maurice – is equally conniving this week. Having told his police Inspector chum, Bob, that he has no interest in music teacher Louise, Maurice suddenly starts beating a path to her door again after seeing Louise and Bob’s glorious duet at the local open mic night down the pub. Maurice also tries to manipulate son Eddie, who’s now running Maurice’s old brewery.  Poor old Maurice is thwarted by both Louise and Eddie who both call him out on his obvious crassness.  We’ve been praying for a spin-off comedy show featuring Maurice and Louise and perhaps now this could be a threesome piece with good old Bob and his guitar thrown in for good measure.

The A Word - Alison Hughes (MORVEN CHRISTIE), Rebecca Hughes (MOLLY WRIGHT) - (C) Fifty Fathoms - Photographer: ROry Mulvey
The A Word – Alison Hughes (MORVEN CHRISTIE), Rebecca Hughes (MOLLY WRIGHT) – (C) Fifty Fathoms – Photographer: Rory Mulvey

As this penultimate episode ends, the family is falling apart around the little boy at the centre of it.  Is there any hope at all for them with only one episode remaining? Can this all be wrapped up in a bow in the one remaining episode? That’s a tough task. And what about the little boy at the heart of it all? Will he get the understanding and communication he so desperately needs? Perhaps there’s enough left of this story to fill another series. We’d bet a large sum of our hard-earned cash that writer Peter Bowker has lots more to tell about this family’s journey with their autistic son (and their many, many other problems).

Bowker’s script here has enough pull to even make the viewer feel for the bullish Alison as she and Paul are unable to reconcile their needs and wants for the future. We can only hope they can work – together or apart – for the sake of their son.

Credits
Written by Peter Bowker, Director Peter Cattaneo, Producer Marcus Wilson

Cast
Maurice…Christopher Eccleston
Alison……Morven Christie
Paul………Lee Ingleby
Joe………..Max Vento
Eddie…….Greg McHugh
Nicola……Vinette Robinson

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