In Flesh and Blood, Staunton plays Mary, the most entertaining, intriguing, and funniest character in the series – and she’s not even, strictly, a main part. Mary’s the pinnacle of nosy neighbourliness: keeping an intense eye on the widow/matriarch next door, Vivien (Francesca Annis), ever since the latter’s children were small. Now, the kids are all grown up and suffer their own straight, white, middle-class problems.
Vivien (Francesca Annis, centre) causes a schism in her family
The eldest, Helen (Claudie Blakley), is a controversial figure in hospital administration, and a borderline alcoholic. The middle child, Jake (Russell Tovey), works as a personal trainer, recently separated from his wife. And the sporadically present youngest child Natalie (Lydia Leonard) is the PA to a property developer… who she’s also sleeping with. It’s easy to understand Mary’s nosiness.
But the biggest scandal is yet to come, as Vivien suddenly announces that she’s in a new relationship with the gentle Irishman Mark (Stephen Rea). It causes a schism in the family (much like the even trashier BBC series Gold Digger) as the kids question Mark’s motives: does he want love or money?
Writer Sarah Williams digs into those tense family dynamics, her writing especially excelling when there's an argument. The kids’ frustrations (mostly shown by Jake, a toxic alpha male) feel unjustified at first, but Williams sows those doubtful seeds into the minds of the audience, too. Predictably, we’re left to question whether Mark’s really a respectable gentleman or just a seedy conman.
Is Mark (Stephen Rea) a good guy or not?
Williams proceeds with delicious fun, weaving the narrative in flash-forwards – clearly influenced by Big Little Lies. She jumps to shrouded police interviews conducted after a violent event at the family home, one that could potentially lead to a murder charge. Mary’s up first, narrating the first episode like an jolly but unreliable chorus.
In a loose, investigatory structure, Williams unfolds a laborious yet amusing guessing game of who-did-what?. Respectably, she maintains the ultimate focus on the characters, who have their moments despite how vacuous, irritating, and spoiled they all are.
the standard elements of alcohol, adultery and even prostitution, Williams delays answering the Mark question for as long as possible.
It’s an annoying trick: no matter how mediocre everything else is, we have to
keep watching it to know that answer; it's easy to get guiltily hooked.
Flesh and Blood airs nightly from Monday 24 February on ITV
|What||Flesh and Blood, ITV review|
24 Feb 20 – 27 Feb 20, ON ITV