New BBC1 Drama The A Word, starring former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, gets off to a blistering start in the first of six episodes, to air on BBC1 on 22 March at 9pm.
The idyllic Lake District setting of The A Word is in sharp contrast to the family drama played out with the troubled Hughes family in Peter Bowker’s adaptation of Keren Margalit’s award-winning Israeli drama.
Paul and Alison Hughes are building a life for themselves and their children; Rebecca (Alison’s teenage daughter) and five-year-old Joe. Joining the family are Paul’s brother Eddie and his wife Nicola, who have moved from London to save their troubled marriage. At at the head of the family is grandad Maurice, played by Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston.
While it’s painfully clear to the viewer that Joe’s behaviour is odd, the adult contingent in the Hughes family has so much angst, anger and awkwardness to deal with that they almost miss the elephant in the room. Eddie and Nicola are the first to voice their concern that there may be more to Joe than a slightly eccentric love of music.
The A Word sets off out of the blocks very quickly and at intense speed you’re whisked into the many-layered problems of a seemingly ordinary family; and whether Joe may be autistic or not is just one part of it. The intertwining relationships between the family members play out around a little boy who is separate from the world around him in almost every respect.
But this is certainly not all angsty, hand-wringing drama. In among scenes that are genuinely heart-wrenching, there is enough light-heartedness – and a couple of laugh out loud moments – in Bowker’s script to make it a fully rounded view of a family dealing with a fair share of troubles. Eccleston’s straight-talking Maurice is an unreconstructed Northern bloke and for our money, gets the best lines, which he delivers with brilliant deadpan.
Bowker is a superlative chronicler of modern family life and the human condition – his CV includes Eric & Ernie, the marvellous Marvellous, and Capital – and he brings the same strength of storytelling to The A Word. A story and characters that could seem hackneyed or two-dimensional in less adept hands are brought fully to life here.
If there are any concerns about portraying a child on the Autistic spectrum, these are quashed by Bowker’s script and Peter Cattaneo’s sensitive and gentle direction of his cast as Joe and his family go through the process of referral and diagnosis and the impact of that on everyone.
There’s not a bad (or even an average) performance in sight, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off Eccleston or six-year-old newcomer, Max Vento. Pencil out your Tuesday evenings from 9-10pm for the next six weeks, because this first episode has set the bar for top quality TV drama.
Episode 1 of The A Word will air on BBC1 on Tuesday 22 March at 9pm.
Written by Peter Bowker, Director Peter Cattaneo, Producer Marcus Wilson