Soundtracks can often elevate films or tv programmes to another plane. And there’s a range of ways music can be incorporated, from the obvious soundtracks where the songs are loudly played into the narrative, or subtle background music with repetitive refrains. And they can work either way. Quentin Tarantino films, or the recent Nicholas Winding Refn film “Drive”, are films where the audience is very aware of the songs – they’re loud and played at length, but in these stylised films it doesn’t matter that you’re jolted out of the film by a sudden song – it adds to the atmosphere and enjoyment. But having songs played in films or tv can sometimes be too obvious and not add anything to the feel of the piece.
The 5-parter BBC short dramas this week called ‘True Love’ are an example where the songs played during the programmes felt too clever and were just off-putting. ‘What the World Needs Now (Is Love, Sweet Love)’ the Burt Bacarach song sung by Dionne Warwick, was played in all 5 of these programmes, along other songs in each programme like ‘True Colours’, ‘The First Time I Ever Saw your Face’, ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’, some Mumford and Sons and other easy-listening songs. The soundtrack was not the only thing that linked the five half-hour programmes of the same title, shown every evening after the 10 o’clock news, they were all set in Margate, and some of the characters were loosely linked. And with the title, you would expect stories ruminating on ‘love’ or romance.
The first programme was about David Tennant/Nick who is married to Ruth/Joanne Froggatt/Anna off of Downton Abbey. It’s her 34th birthday at the start but they have 2 old teenage children- the oldest looks at least 14 and actually older than that. Then an old flame, Serena, played by Vicky McClure off ‘This is England’ fame turns up. She’s been living in Canada for the last 13 years it seems – and has come to see Nick and her sister, Michelle played by Lacey Turner off of Eastenders. When David Tennant sees Lacey Turner, he tells her that the last time he saw her she was 8 – which would make her older than she looks now. Anyway, all the ages are very very confusing and offputting. Apparently Serena and Nick used to be a great couple in love but then Serena suddenly ran away one day and left him. And when they’re reunited all their feelings come flooding back. They must have been going out when they were teenagers. But Ruth and Serena know each other too. Ah! So confusing. Nick and Serena sleep together and talk of running away together. But then they don’t. But Nick tells Ruth about it, or at least some version of what happened, and she forgives him. The end.
The second episode is about Paul, played by Ashley Walters, who is married to Michelle, Lacey Turner. Michelle had told Nick in the first episode that she had a great love, but things aren’t great between them. There’s no mention of her sister, so not sure if it is set before or after the first episode. Anyway, they have a baby and Michelle stays at home. She doesn’t like Paul to touch her, and he works at a carpet shop. On his way to work, he keeps on seeing a blonde woman at the bus stop and is intrigued. She is played by Jaime Winstone. One day he leaves a message for her at the bus stop and she meets him at the beach and they begin an affair. It’s not clear how much time passes but she’s soon telling him she loves him but has to go and visit her mum who is 5k in debt. Paul gives her the 5k and she goes to see her mum. Within a few hours she has disconnected her mobile phone (how did she do that so quickly?) and disappeared. He’s been duped but he still wants to leave his wife. After pleading from Michelle though at the end, and it is not clear, it appears that he stays with his wife anyway and they try and patch things up.
The first two episodes are the worst of the bunch, they’re stilted – apparently these episodes are semi-improvised – and I don’t really get what they’re trying to say or prove. The third episode is about Holly, played by Billie Piper, who is an English teacher at a school. In her GCSE class is a girl called Karen, who also goes to her after-school art club, and they become friends. Holly is having an affair with a married man called David, and has a mum played by Jenny Agutter. Holly and Karen start their own affair, and soon the kids in their class find out and bully them. Holly tells Karen that she has to leave and then one day walks out of the class. The sixteen-year old Karen joins her. Surely, if all the children know, then the other teachers would know and Holly would be prosecuted? More confusions.. The 4th episode focuses on Sandra, played by Jane Horrocks, who is the wife of David, the person who was having the affair with Billie Piper. I think this is set after the 3rd episode as Sandra has an affair with a Turkish man called Ishmail and David is upset and wants her to stay with him. At the end, Sandra leaves David – she’s seen on train by herself- so I don’t think she leaves with Ishmail, but just leaves for herself, having become empowered by her friendship with Ishmail. And the fifth episode is about Adrian, played by David Morrissey, the father of Karen. I presume this is before Karen starts having her affair with her teacher as there’s no mention of it in this episode. She’s also still friends with Lorraine in this episode, her best friend who betrays her confidence in the 3rd episode. Adrian is a divorced taxi-driver who starts a relationship online with a young banker in Hong Kong. She’s young, successful and beautiful, (and British but just relocated to HK for work) but for some reasons falls in love with a middle-aged taxi-driver. Meanwhile, Lorraine has become infatuated with Adrian and gets jealous about Kathy (the HK girl), but it all gets sorted in the end.
Relegated to a late night time slot and shown over 4 days, this was a strange series. Each episode was too slight. There were too many distractions with the songs and trying to work out how the plot points would actually work to enjoy the dramas. The scripts were shoddy. The acting varied. I’m not sure if the title ‘True Love’ was meant to be ironic, as none of the couples were particularly happy apart from Adrian and Kathy. All the episodes also seemed to focus on affairs and infidelity. I’m not sure why I bothered to watch them all, but the all-star cast failed to deliver and I can’t imagine the BBC will try and repeat this kind of experiment again.