Last year was a great year for drama and BBC One are wasting no time in unleashing some more great drama for 2014. Only the other day we were treated to the return Sherlock which delivered record ratings for the series of 9.2 million, and on Monday night the beeb are unveiling their new two-part romantic drama, The 7.39.
Written by David Nicholls, who is perhaps best known for his best-selling novels (both of which have been turned into films), One Day and Starter For Ten - The 7.39 is spread over two consecutive nights and has a pretty incredible cast; Sheridan Smith (Mrs Biggs), Olivia Colman (Broadchurch), David Morrissey (The Walking Dead) and Sean Maguire (Scott & Bailey). And you know me, anything with Colman I'm watching, anything with Smith I'm watching so a drama with both of them in it? Unmissable!
Before I describe The 7.39, here's how David Nicholls describes it; "The 7.39 is a love story for grown-ups, the sort of drama that has not been seen on television for a while. I'm delighted to be writing for the BBC again and working with such a terrific cast and production team.”
Having seen both parts I have to agree with him. I'm a grown-up and whilst it is a love story, I found myself hooked after watching just the first 20 minutes, and when the first episode came to an end I simply had to watch the second one straight after. It is very much a story for grown-ups and whilst you feel like this kind of story is always being told on telly, it actually isn't. Nicholls is right when he says that this sort of drama has "...not been seen on television for a while." If you think back to all the drama of the past year, good and bad, the majority of them have been murder mysteries involving serial killers.
The 7.39 tells the story of Carl Matthews and Sally Thorn who meet one Monday morning on the 7:39 train to London Waterloo. The same train that Carl has got for 12 years and Sally for 4 weeks.Carl Matthews is 45, played by David Morrissey, and is a Commercial Property Sales Executive. His life has become nothing but a routine, he gets the same train, sees the same sights, the same faces day in day out. And whilst he might be bored of his monotonous working life, he does appear to be happily married to Maggie, his best friend from college, who is played by Olivia Colman. He also has two teenage children, Charlotte and Adam.
Then there's Sally Thorn, who is played by the wonderful Sheridan Smith, younger than Carl, Sally is a manager of a West End health club and is engaged to Ryan, a personal trainer who's played by Sean Maguire. Having recently moved out of London, for life in the suburbs, but still working in London, Sally isn't sure whether the move to suburbia was quite right for her. And having a partner who is desperate to start a family, get married and settle down and one who turns every conversation around to be about confetti or wedding venues, you can begin to see why.
So Carl is married and Sally's engaged, which means nothing can happen between the two of them right? Wrong.
Ultimately, The 7.39 is a love story about a two people whose lives are a routine. Before long, what starts off as a fight between the two for a seat on a Monday morning, soon turns into something more and as their friendship grows, they begin sharing hotel rooms, lying to their partners and growing feelings for one another. They've gone beyond the 'friend zone' and for the pair of them, the commute into work that at one time felt monotonous and boring, has suddenly become exciting and a lot more appealing. They now look forward to boarding the same train together every morning.
Carl and Sally have some big decisions to make throughout the piece. They both have to choose whether to follow their heart or stick by their family values and brush this affair under the carper. It's a conflict that anyone watching can perhaps empathise with. It might not an easy decision for either of them to make, but you know what they say - "If you're not happy, get out.".
So asides from a great story, what also makes The 7.39 great is a phenomenal cast. For many years now I have been a huge fan of Olivia Colman and Sheridan Smith's work and to have both in one drama is a terrific treat and they sure as hell don't let us down.
As always, Colman's performance is an emotional one, and similarly to Broadchurch, her (on screen) husband has betrayed her and she's left facing the consequences. So whilst I might have sometimes agreed with what Carl and Sally were getting up to, I couldn't help but feel sorry for Maggie. She seemed so nice, really loving of her husband and I guess to a certain extent, she was naive. She had no idea that anything was going on between her husband and another woman. Now I don't want to give anything away about the ending other than to say that she does eventually find out and the very end of The 7.39 might surprise you.
Then there's Sheridan Smith, who whether she's in a comedy, a drama or even a West End play, always delivers. Mrs Biggs might be (in my opinion) her best work to date, but I really loved her in this and feel as though the character of Sally really suited her. As she so often does in her work, she mad me feel as though I really knew Sally, I could relate to her, and make judgements as to what the right decisions for her were. Her fiancé for example, I didn't like much, but I could tell that Sally didn't either, and rightly or wrongly I was willing her to fall in love with Carl and out of love with Ryan.
Some of my favourite moments in The 7.39 are when Sheridan and Olivia share scenes together towards the end of episode two. Rounding off the cast is David Morrissey and Ryan Maguire who are both fantastic and the moment they meet is another highlight of mine, a real dramatic moment - and one that leaves Sally in an even bigger predicament than she was in before.
So don't let 'love story' tag put you off, because like I say I really enjoyed it and The 7.39, and it is very much a story of two halves. Whilst the first episode is a bit more of a traditional rom-com, the second episode is a lot darker, and more dramatic. As the affair reaches it's (excuse the pun) climax we begin to see the impact the affair has had on their own lives as well as how it has affected those close to them, mainly their family.
It's a story that, I continue to agree with writer David Nicholls about, isn't seen all that often on television anymore. If there's not a serial killer in a drama these days, it's considered 'not as good', and whilst I too love serial killer dramas, it's nice to have something a bit different. And I'd be shocked to find anyone who had watched The 7.39 and did not find it warm, entertaining and really enjoyable to watch. So well done to the cast and crew and of course David Nicholls, for creating a great original British drama to kick off 2014 on BBC One.