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Mrs Wilson (BBC, Ruth Wilson) - Review

Mrs Wilson

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

SLOW burning but compelling, new BBC drama Mrs Wilson offers a genuinely intriguing true life tale of marital deception that’s given extra edge by the close personal relationship of its leading lady to the actual events.

Ruth Wilson, of The Affair fame, actually plays her own grandmother, Alison, in the series, who discovered upon her late husband’s death that she was not, in fact, his only wife. Rather, by the first episode’s end, there were at least two more women married to her grandfather, Alec (played by Game of Thrones stalwart Iain Glen).

The questions this throws up are manifold. How, for instance, did Alec pull it off? And why did he want to?

Wilson has revealed in pre-publicity for the series that many of the details are still withheld by the Ministry of Defence, given that Alec was an Army Major working for MI6. So, what can we expect to glean from the remaining episodes?

On the evidence so far, it’s a subtle portrait of grief and deception, on the nature of relationships and secrecy. How much do we reveal of ourselves even within the closest relationships.

There is no doubting Alison’s love for Alec, nor his devotion to her or the two sons he shared with her. To all intents and purposes, he was a good father and a devoted husband.

But the same can be said for his first wife, Gladys (Elizabeth Rider), whom he never actually divorced, and for her son, Dennis (Patrick Kennedy).

The shock and heartbreak of all parties is plain to see once the revelation of Alec’s deceit is made. But so, too, is their continued devotion to him. Alison and Dennis, for instance, quietly agree to hide the deception from the authorities, so long as a burial agreement can be reached between both parties.

But there is a sting in the tail of the first episode. A third woman is mentioned, Dorothy… albeit another Mrs Wilson. But who is Dorothy? And where does she fit into this increasingly elaborate puzzle?

Series director Richard Laxton has, thus far, got us hooked. The revelations (you could even call them twists) keep on coming but never at the expense of the characters. Rather, time is taken – at least in Alison’s case – to explore the relationship between her and Alec, as they first meet during the Second World War and form their unlikely bond.

Glen has long been a vivid storyteller, thanks in no small part to his mesmerising voice. He belongs to that special breed of British actor (see also Mark Strong and Tom Hiddleston) who can have you enthralled with his voice alone. Here, he’s a spy and writer… a man with a penchant for spinning a great yarn.

But as his secrets unravel, so his trust becomes questionable. Mid-episode, he is arrested for wearing a uniform under false pretences. He claims it’s a set-up, designed to embed him as a spy on a new mission. But how much of this is true? Was he, in fact, arrested?

Glen, though, never becomes unlikeable… at least, not yet. He’s a charmer. A romantic. A dashing war hero. But the why remains a niggle… an itch we can’t scratch. We want to know more about him.

Wilson, typically, is excellent as well. She invests her older Alison with grief and hurt, yet maintains a constant air of dignity that is, in its own way, empowering. It’s neatly offset with the wide-eyed younger version she portrays, as she falls in love.

There’s strong support, too, from Fiona Shaw, as Alec’s handler, and from Kennedy, as Dennis… another person of huge dignity, whose loyalty to his father’s memory is unflappable but tempered by the sympathy he feels for both his birth mother and Alison. There was something quietly upsetting in Alison’s refusal to allow him the chance to stay in touch… a hurt that his own decency had not been more greatly rewarded as he, too, seeks some answers.

If there is a minor criticism, at this stage, it’s that a large part of the show’s sympathy seems to lie with Alison. One hopes this becomes spread more evenly, as the lives of Alec’s other women were also impacted by the revelations of his bigamy.

But with two more episodes to follow, and Keeley Hawes waiting in the wings as Dorothy, we can surely expect the story to become even more complex and emotionally challenging, even if the answers we now all seek won’t necessarily be provided.

Mrs Wilson therefore has to rate as another dramatic triumph for the BBC in an autumn schedule that has already boasted a fair few of them.