Just before the summer the BBC showed a 6 part series called The Split which is a legal drama series about divorce lawyers. I tend to not really like watching divorce dramas or dramas where a married woman is torn between her husband and a potential (ex-) lover. However, I had seen a trailer and it had two great attractions.
The first attraction was Nicola Walker (of Spooks fame, a very nice connection to Richard Armitage there!)…
I only watched Spooks during the three seasons that Richard was in it. It was fine but I never was a real fan of the show. However, apart from Richard, I always thought Nicola Walker as Ruth was the standout actor in it. I’ve never really seen her in anything else and in the trailer for The Split, she made me curious.
The second attraction was Barry Atsma, a Dutch actor. I tend to generally not be very fond of Dutch actors (or Dutch films) and I had not seen that much of Barry Atsma, although he is famous in The Netherlands. He seemed a generic and a little too sleekly handsome actor. Recently he made a Dutch movie called Bankier van het Verzet (The Resistance Banker) set in The Netherlands during World War II, which I alas missed in the cinema but was one of the few Dutch movies I really did want to see.
In the trailer and the publicity surrounding it, I suddenly saw something more than the smooth, charming exterior of Barry Atsma. Maybe it’s him ageing a little, like a fine wine, that makes him a little more appealing. Maybe he’s gaining more maturity as an actor and coming into his own. In any case, when I realized he had been cast in a prime time BBC series, I got curious to see how he’d do in an international setting and was also curious to see how his English would be.
I caught a glimpse (the first 10 minutes or so) of episode 3 of The Split when it aired on TV and from that felt I needed to watch the whole series. And so, recently, I finally did. Caution: if you read on, there may be minor spoilers ahead!
So, Hannah Stern (Nicola Walker) is a top class divorce lawyer in London.
She used to work for the family firm, where her mother Ruth Defoe (Deborah Findley) is boss and her younger sister Nina Defoe (Annabel Scholey, the dark-haired woman in the pictures below) also works as a lawyer. Their youngest sister Rose Defoe (Fiona Button) is not a lawyer but is very much a part of the story as well.
At the beginning of the series, Hannah starts work for a large top-class law firm, having left the Defore family firm as there were no more prospects for her there. She becomes the colleague of Christie Carmichael (Barry Atsma), who is an old flame she has been out of touch with. Christie is referred to as ‘Dutch not Danish’ a few times, and he also has a little bit of a Dutch accent, so why they chose to name the character Christie Carmichael is beyond me – there is nothing remotely Dutch about that name! Anyhow, Christie it is.
Christie and Hannah share an old friendship, which of course doesn’t sit so well with Hannah’s husband of twenty years, Nathan Stern (Stephen Mangan). Hannah and Nathan have 3 children between the ages of 16 and 10, Nathan is a barrister and on the surface their marriage seems alright, although from the beginning you do feel there is something lacking. Later it becomes more clear what that is…
Hannah immediately gets thrown into a big divorce case. During an initial meeting at Hannah’s new law firm, multimillionaire business owner Davey McKenzie (Stephen Tompkinson) tells his wife of 40 years, Goldie (Meera Syal), that he wants a divorce, which comes as a complete shock to her system.Painful layers slowly get peeled away in this case and it serves as a thread throughout the whole series. The case also pits Hannah against the Defoe firm of her mother and sister. Hannah has a bit of a problematic relationship with her mother after leaving the firm, yet, Hannah, her sisters and their mother also share a deep bond and history of having to rely on each other after their father walked out when the girls were small children. Their father Oscar Defoe (Anthony Head), after having been an absent father for 30 years, suddenly shows up again in their lives, which causes a lot of tension…
There is tension between Hannah and her fellow-lawyer sister Nina: professional tension but also personal tension when Hannah sees Nathan flirt with Nina and when Christie too seems interested in Nina. And there also is tension between the youngest sister Rose and her fiancé James Cutler (Rudi Dharmalingam). Again, a baffling choice of a name for an Asian man who turns out to have Asian parents as well. Anyhow, James, seems almost too decent and boring and Rose seems to be getting cold feet as things slowly go south for this young couple. The way a young vicar gets caught between the couple during pre-ceremony talks is quite amusing, though…… and (spoiler here) things do get better again for them.
Then there is the whole Hannah, Nathan and Christie triangle. Hannah still is attracted to Christie, yet also cares for her husband Nathan and is fiercely determined to keep Christie at a distance. Nathan loves his wife and when things come to a head at the end of the series, he fights for her, despite mistakes he also made. Christie, who seems to only be a smooth flirt at first, does turn out to have depth as he slowly shows how deeply he still cares for Hannah. It is hinted that she is “the one who got away” for him and you even get the sense that he is “the one who got away” for her as well, that she settled for Nathan over Christie way back in the day. Nathan is aware of some of the history between Hannah and Christie but not all of it and when the two men meet at work, you can cut the tension with a knife…So, Hannah is at the center of this whole story and has so much to deal with. Professional problems at work (among other things, her mother and sister poach a client and her loyalty to the new firm is occasionally questioned), problems with her dad re-entering her life, problems with her 16-year-old daughter who is discovering sex, problems with her sisters, and she is torn between two men. I normally don’t like stories about women being torn between two men, especially when she’s already married, but in this case I admit to being extremely torn myself. That is all down to the perfect portrayals of Hannah, Nathan and Christie. Usually in films or series you have a preference for one suitor over the other and what I think is brilliantly done here is that it is difficult to prefer one to the other; I have great sympathy for Hannah and also for both the men she loves. All three of them are very decent at heart yet all three of them are also flawed, just very human. If I were Hannah, I wouldn’t know who to choose either, I wouldn’t know who would make me happiest and I would love both as well… Nicola Walker, Stephen Mangan and Barry Atsma are truly brilliant in this.
Not only these three characters are so very well portrayed. Mother Ruth, sisters Nina and Rose, fiancé James, dad Oscar, and Goldie who has been forced into a divorce by her husband Davey, are all brilliant. They are all very human, good and flawed at the same time, and you get a real sense that even if you wouldn’t necessarily agree with all actions, you do understand where they’re coming from. The point where in the last episode Hannah is truly falling apart and she turns to her dad for a brief moment – yes, tears were streaming down my face.
I’m sure many things about divorce are not accurately portrayed in this, and it really is all a rich-person’s drama, and some of the names seem weird, and yes, I have read mixed reviews for this show. I get the criticism – there really is so much drama, almost too much to bear. And yet, I loved every moment of this show and I think it had mostly to do with the characters and how they were portrayed. With lesser actors, the whole thing could have become whiney and unbearable and ridiculous to watch. Yet, with this cast, each and every one of them was brilliant and they lifted it all up for me. I really liked that you could sympathise with almost every character despite their flaws, it felt like all characters were treated fairly and I loved that it was strong-women driven.
I finished binge-watching The Split a few days ago and it’s been on my mind ever since. There will be a season 2 next year and I for one am already looking forward to it!