Marriage, BBC1, last night


Don’t adjust your set. Emma and Ian are ordinary people – and, whisper it, they’re starring in a BBC drama.

Their Ford Focus is eight years old. They could even load the dishwasher blindfolded as a nightly routine. 

While they are on holiday at Costa del Sol and enjoy the ‘normal restaurants’, they do not eat out as much.

Millions of people are like them. These are the people of Middle England – the mainstay of the nation. They are rarely acknowledged by the Beeb drama department.

Bifold doors are common for couples in prime time serials. They open onto gardens and firepits, as well as off-road parking.

The designer fridge is missing. Is that a marble-topped island? The wine rack is missing. Does that bedroom have an ensuite bathroom but no bed? Are you really paying attention to THE BBC?

This portrayal of suburban life contains the only bit of fantasy. Nicola Walker portrays Emma and Sean Bean plays Ian.

My suspicion is that almost all British women of certain ages would be happy to spend a lifetime in Torremolinos, no matter how opulent, if they could share a bed with Sean.

In BBC1's Marriage, Emma is played by Nicola Walker (left) and Sean Bean is Ian (right)

BBC1’s Marriage has Emma played by Nicola Walker (left) while Sean Bean plays Ian (right).

Sitcoms like Two Doors Down are the best way to see Emma and Ian. 

It’s quite telling that Marriage was written and directed by Stefan Golaszewski. This is the man best-known for writing poignant comedy Mum with Lesley Manville. 

Although there are few laughs in marriage, you will find some hidden gems.

Ian, while the two of them were watching TV, tipped off his slippers and stretched out his toes. 

The wife did not respond, but a slight flicker of her eyes. It was sufficient. As if he were sneezing under the door, he sensed disapproval and pulled his slippers on again.

This was an excellent evocation for a close relationship, where each person knows exactly what the other is going to say even before opening their mouths.

This marriage is full of tension, even though they have a great love.

They seemed to argue over nothing in the first scene at an airport restaurant as they return from Spain. 

Ian wanted a jacket potato but Emma returned with chips. The ketchup sachets were only 30 cents.

It was enough to cause sniping, recriminations and chaos all the way to the gate. 

They were shouting at one another by the time they saw the seatbelt signs.

Slowly, the layers of their marriage began to peel back. It was clear that this home had been piled high with old issues. 

All of it is incredibly sad. It’s even worse for the fact that it seems so routine. Life’s like that, of course – our unique sorrows are incomprehensible to outsiders, however wearily commonplace they are to us.

It's telling that Marriage is written by Stefan Golaszewski, best-known for the poignant comedy Mum, starring Lesley Manville

It’s quite telling that Marriage is written and directed by Stefan Golaszewski. Stefan Golaszewski is most well-known for the touching comedy Mum featuring Lesley Manville.

A lot of the mess they created was predicable. Ian doesn’t have a job – he’s been made redundant, and the holiday came out of his pay-off. 

Now, his work day consists of cleaning up the litter and watering the roses. He also lurks at the gym trying to make new friends.

Emma works as a solicitor in a two-room shop above a shop. It is not an energetic City law firm that has glamorous clients.

Walker jokes about the jacket she bought online at a discounted price. This is a dig at Walker and her power suits on The Split, a more luxurious BBC series.

Deeper, darker crevices may also contain other sources of strain. Neither Emma nor Ian – nor their grown-up daughter Jessica – is able to talk about a terrible bereavement. 

Again, this is not made explicit but we guess the couple have lost their son as they sit in the cemetery, lost in grief, and then walk back to the car making the smallest of small talk – should they get a packet of peanuts for Jessica’s homecoming or is it worth the extra quid to buy cashews?

Although it might seem like everyday things, there is a sense of surprise.

It seems like the TV sees us all the time. 

It is utterly fascinating to read the story of Emma and Ian. It can be a joy to glimpse into other people’s lives.