The end of a marriage is an enduring premise for a TV show. The story of divorce and child custody has been told many times before – there are the similar and familiar struggles, awkwardness, pain and resolution. The challenge for any TV show that takes on a divorce is to depict it differently.
This is what BBC’s Come Home attempts to do in its three one-hour episodes about a family being torn apart. Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, The A Word) is Greg, a middle-aged man whose wife walked out on him and her children some 11 months ago. No reasons are given and no signs are visible – to him, at least. His wife of 19 years, Marie (Paula Malcomson) loves her two teenagers Liam and Laura, and five-year old daughter Molly, but cannot bear to spend another minute under the same roof with the man with whom she has built this life.
The mini-series depicts a disintegrating family trying to understand what went wrong. The first two episodes are told from the point of view of Greg and Marie, respectively.
Greg is struggling to keep his life together, and the children aren’t doing much better either. With Marie gone, it’s all still new and difficult. But he believes he deserves some fun. When his awkward first date doesn’t go too well, he finds himself attracted to and involved with Brenna (Kerri Quinn), an acquaintance whom he rescues as she is being assaulted by her abusive partner. Soon enough, he invites her and her young son into his home, much to the shock and displeasure of his brood.
Marie gets an episode too, and this is where we get a glimpse into the struggles of a 40-something woman who decides to move out for the sake of her own peace and happiness. As one would imagine, it isn’t easy. She still meets her 14-year-old daughter for lunch sometimes, finds it hard to face old friends when she bumps into them, and is struggling to get back out there with the help of app-based dating sites. We are introduced to her relationship with her own mother. As grave secrets and old truths come to light, they add a new, unexpected perspective to a mostly straightforward plot.
The series finale attempts to provide some resolution to the whole situation, to only mildly satisfying results. After Laura gets embroiled in the abusive drama that Brenna brings with her, Marie decides that she wants her kids back and takes her ex-husband to court. This is where the two sides of the story come face-to-face. Through a series of confessions, inquiries and flashbacks we are given an idea of the exhaustion and decline that has set into their lives. The shows portrays a dysfunctional marriage with all the issues that come with it – post-natal depression, emotional control, loss of identity, deceit, infidelity, guilt and regret, angry teenagers and abuse.
Separation and divorce are not easy subjects, and do not necessarily make for the most binge-worthy TV. But what saves the show from becoming yet another study of the machinations of a separation is Eccleston’s masterful balancing of tragedy with comedic awkwardness and BAFTA-winning screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst’s deeply emotional writing about a home that has turned into a battlefield.