Get ready for the big feel-good hit of the summer... Brief Encounters!
ITV deliver some great drama, but it’s often not very feel-good. Yes the acting is superb in something like The Secret and the storylines are excellent in a series like Marcella, but when The Durrells arrived earlier this year, it was a breath of fresh air as it wasn’t full of misery.
And now ITV are bringing feel-good back in a big way with Brief Encounters, a bold new six-part drama which is full of warmth, honesty and joy. Created and written by Fay Rusling and Oriane Messina (Green Wing, Me & Mrs Jones), the series follows four women as they strive to find happiness and fulfilment in the early eighties.
The series stars Penelope Wilton, Sophie Rundle, Angela Griffin and Sharon Rooney, as well as Peter Wight, Don Gilet, Karl Davies, Will Merrick and Ben Bailey Smith and many many more!
Right from the word go, the music, the outfits and the hair all let you know that you’re in for a good time. And whilst it is very much an ensemble drama, there’s no denying that there are four ladies at the forefront of it all; Pauline, Stephanie, Nita and Dawn.
With talk of "exotic underwear" and "dirty old men" and sex toys being described as "martial aids", it's safe to say this isn't your average ITV drama!
Pauline is played by Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) and whilst on the surface she looks as though she has it all, a lovely house, someone who cleans it for her and a loving husband, there's a secret sadness underneath. It is through her relationship with the Ann Summers girls that Pauline finally steps out from the shadows and Pauline flourishes into a role that only Penelope Wilton could play!
Stephanie, played by Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders) is married to Terry, played by Karl Davies (Happy Valley) and is a mum of one to a young son. Whilst taking her son to his first day at school, Steph meets Nita – a no-nonsense mother of four, who’s also struggling with her financial situation.
Searching for something more in her life, she sees an ad in the local paper in episode one which is everything she has been looking for - ‘Ann Summers Demonstrators required to run parties selling exotic lingerie. FOR LADIES ONLY. Earn £30-£40 for an evening’s work’.
And it's via new friendships and the excitement of her newfound career, Steph becomes an unlikely entrepreneur. Sure at first there's a shyness and naivety about her but very quickly she finds her backbone and a deep desire to achieve more than just marriage and children.
Nita, who Steph meets in the school playground, is played by Angela Griffin (Mount Pleasant) and little do either of them know that it's from that moment on that both their lives change.
Nita is a mix of grit and warmth, struggling to run a household with a husband, Kieren, played by Don Gilet (EastEnders) whom she adores but who frequently strays onto the wrong side of the law, despite his devotion to his family.
And last, but definitely not least, there’s Dawn, played by the always brilliant Sharon Rooney (My Mad Fat Diary). She's a young hairdresser who much like Pauline, on the surface is happy, bubbly and outgoing, but in reality is trapped.
Since her mother died she has been trapped into looking after her father and three brothers who take her for granted, and the buzz of earning serious cash with the other women gives Dawn the incentive to finally realise her dreams with fiancé, Russell, the butcher’s apprentice played by Will Merrick (The Rack Pack).
Brief Encounters is bound to be the big feel-good hit of the summer, and it deserves to be. Ensemble drama is something which I feel has been missing from television recently. Kay Mellor did it brilliantly of course with In The Club and before that with The Syndicate and Fat Friends but it's a type of drama which many writers overlook, and I'm not entirely sure why.
For me it's the most accessible and character driven drama outside of soaps (another genre unfairly looked down on). I love and appreciate ensemble dramas because they really invest in their characters, each is as important as the next, and the writers have to know them inside out in order to allow the audience to really understand them.
Some ensemble dramas choose to focus on a different character each week, others just let their backstories and relationships unravel as the series goes on, but whatever the approach the characters always turn out fully rounded.
With ensemble drama it's almost a given that you're going to relate to one of the characters, or at the very least, recognise one of them as someone you know. It's this familiarity and realness which keeps you coming back week after week, and indeed series after series.
Don't get me wrong, of course I love drama with main leads, and of course you get to know that one character very well, but often storyline is favoured over characterisation, which is why people often question the need for shows like Broadchurch or The Missing to return for a second series.
The characters within that storyline were of course captivating but once that comes to an end, do viewers really want to see those characters again? More often than not, the answer is no. They don't.
But Brief Encounters most definitely does. I find the relationship between Pauline and her husband Brian fascinating and would love to know more about them as a couple.
I'd also love to know how did Nita meet her fella, any why do they have so many children? Will Stephanie stay with Terry? Has that always been a volatile relationship? Will Dawn finally fulfil her dreams? And will Ann Summers be the answer to all their problems it certainly appears to be after episode one?
I'm sure that with such fantastic writing and characters we're in for a fair few twists and turns along the way, but one thing's for sure I shall be tuning in week after week and I really hope the nation do too as I strongly believer there is still a place on British television for ensemble dramas.