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The A Word: Season 3, Episode 3 - Review (Note-perfect drama)

The A Word

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

THERE is always so much to admire in every episode of The A Word that it can be easy to overlook when it really excels. But in the highly emotional third episode of season three, multi-award winning writer Peter Bowker really delivered a master-class in note-perfect drama.

As with so many series, stories seemed to mirror each other and had a theme. But where some feel highly contrived, The A Word makes them feel organic. And every character gets a moment to shine and to explore the complex emotions at play.

Hence, episode three divided its focus between all of the key players. Primary among these was Christopher Eccleston’s Maurice and his inability to accept news of his son, Eddie (Greg McHugh)’s decision to sell the brewery he had handed over to him to run.

But there was also the developing romance between Alison Hughes (Morven Christie) and new boyfriend Ben (David Gyasi) and, in turn, the effect this had on her autistic son, Joe (Max Vento) and, by extension, his relationship with his father, Paul (Lee Ingleby).

The former storyline involved plenty of bickering and some comedy as father and son continually found themselves thrust upon each other in awkward situations. A camping trip that Paul had arranged for Joe and friends provided a boiling point for this, as such.

The latter storyline, meanwhile, involved some warmth and happiness for Alison, while also bringing in another great character in Ben. But it also exposed feelings of uncertainty and insecurity in Paul, which were picked up on by Joe.

Both main storylines culminated in scenes that were beautifully played and emotionally devastating, if bittersweet.

The conflict between Eddie and Maurice finally played out back at the brewery, as Eddie paid one last visit to say goodbye. But while still fuming at his father’s apparent disdain towards both his success and his decision to sell, Maurice attempted to find the words to explain where he was coming from emotionally.

Eccleston played these scenes brilliantly. His frustration stemmed as much from his own failure as a father as it did his feelings of being let-down by Eddie’s decision to sell. There was hurt married with pride, further combined with sorrow and an impending sense of loss. He didn’t want Eddie to leave. But he didn’t want to stand in the way of his success either, while struggling to understand how he had achieved it.

Eddie, for his part, wore his anger and frustration effortlessly well, tapping into that feeling that every son has probably had at being misunderstood by a father… or struggling to attain the level of recognition they may feel is warranted. Again, there was hurt and insecurity, with McHugh delivering arguably his very best work in the series so far.

The scene was as moving as it was powerful… and it was concluded brilliantly, with views expressed and wounds almost healed, only for Maurice to leave without finding a proper resolution – and by that, I mean a Hollywood resolution. Life went on for both of them. And while both may have gleaned a deeper understanding of where they were coming from, the feelings that informed the exchange in the first place remained.

And this is where Bowker and The A Word excel, in providing flesh and blood, human characters… not stereotypes, but flawed, loveable complete human beings. You almost feel part of the family at times.

Similarly, you felt something of a warm glow at the prospect of Alison finding some form of happiness after her divorce with Ben, as well as a sense of regret and sadness for Paul. This was an episode that put you through the range of emotions, laughing one minute, potentially shedding a tear the next.

Joe’s response to his father’s silent anguish and insecurity about Alison’s new relationship and what it could mean for the long-term was also beautifully, poignantly realised. Joe, superbly played as ever by Vento, sensed his father was struggling and asked Alison to take him back to Paul’s home.

He then silently plugged in the earphones he had previously discarded and listened to his father’s musical selections, while allowing Paul to hug him on the sofa. Alison looked on, as – eventually – did Maurice and Alison’s pregnant daughter.

It was a warm, tender, intimate moment that may have been picture-perfect in the moment, but which represented the fractured nature of what has become the Hughes household. Joe, for all of his communication shortcomings, succeeded in delivering a moment of unity, as well as a silent reassurance that he still loved Paul and saw him as Dad.

It was silently done, with no words needed. But it was as heart-warming as it was heart-breaking. And it brought the episode to a close in stunning fashion.

The A Word continually finds ways to deliver emotionally rich drama that combines comedy with tragedy. This episode had it in spades. It was a masterclass in sustained brilliance.

Read our review of the season opener