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The 7.39 - Final episode review

The 7.39

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

IT’S always disappointing when a story cops out. The David Nicholls penned The 7.39 did just that, reducing what had been an absorbing drama into a crushing disappointment.

If the first half was flirtatious fun and a guilty pleasure, the second got – as we expected – heavy. The question that had been on every viewers’ lips was actually asked by Sheridan Smith’s Sally at one point: “How does this end happily?”

And true to predictable form, events took a turn for the worse once Carl (David Morrissey) and Sally had been discovered – first by Carl’s suspicious wife Maggie (Olivia Colman) and then once Sally herself had decided to come clean to her fianc√© Ryan (Sean Maguire).

To add to Carl’s woes, he also lost his job, just as Sally became pregnant with Ryan’s child. Complications abounded. Lives were torn apart. As Maggie put it, in one brilliant confrontation between her and Carl: “Stuck in a rut? Me too! But I have a family that I love, and I would not betray them!”

Strong, too, was Maggie’s sentiment that, rather than making them stronger, the affair had destroyed them… a statement delivered to Carl once he had been admitted to hospital after being knocked unconscious by an angry, vengeful Ryan.

So far, so compelling… even if Maguire’s Ryan remained the most short-changed character in both episodes. Never particularly compelling, Ryan was even rendered mute during his supposedly big moment, as he reacted violently to news of the affair. It seemed an odd decision to switch off the volume and have him remonstrate with music and slow motion for dramatic effect. If I was Maguire, I’d have been venting a different kind of anger and frustration at that particular piece of direction, especially as Maggie and even Carl’s daughter got their moment to shine and deliver the lines in Nicholls’ mostly decent script.

But why the really crushing disappointment? Well, having remained mostly realistic (we’ll not mention the softly lit love scene that owed so much to Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight), the final episode decided to have its cake and eat it. Having shown the repercussions of the affair in believable fashion, a post-script set two years later undermined most – if not all – of the drama’s good work.

Carl had reunited with his family, found a new job and was closer than ever to them… a touch of the shoulder, first by Carl to his daughter and then by Maggie to Carl, confirmed as much. And then he ‘just happened’ to see Sally on a crowded Waterloo platform, who had clearly left Ryan (who could blame her after his appallingly inept forgiveness speech?), had her child and hooked up with another guy.

There was even chance for Carl and Sally to shoot one more lovey-dovey glance at each other, before Carl went on his merry way. Boy, what a good idea his affair had been. Sure, there was suffering. But everyone came out the better for it in the end.

For those hopeless romantics among you, it was the perfect ending. Yet for those more in tune with real life, it smacked of Hollywood schmaltz, or the worst kind of Richard Curtis gloopy excess. And it felt entirely out of keeping with some of the more sobering elements of the previous one hour and 50 minutes.

True, Maggie may well have eventually forgiven Carl but the issue of trust would surely still have been there. But did we need that glimpse into the future? Surely, a more suitable ending would have been to have left it at the point where Carl was stood at his front door, asking to come in… thereby letting audiences decide for themselves what might have followed.

Similarly, we knew from the look on Sally’s face that Ryan’s forgiveness speech told her all that she needed to know about him.

The ‘two years later’ was both disrespectful to the excellent abilities of the first-rate cast to convey all that without spoon-feeding the audience, as well as somewhat insulting to its viewers’ intelligence and ability to decide for themselves. Worse, it almost seemed that Nicholls, in celebrating romance, seemed also to be saying that an affair can be a good thing for sprucing up a stale relationship.

As happy endings go, this was a real stinker.