Delicate, sincere and painfully realistic: how BBC’s Marriage is redefining the romance drama

Delicate, sincere and painfully realistic: how BBC’s Marriage is redefining the romance drama


BBC One’s Marriage premieres this weekend and as well as being an incredibly realistic look into married life, it also breathes new life into the romantic drama genre, according to one Stylist writer. 

Content warning: this article contains minor spoilers for BBC One’s Marriage.

When you think of romantic dramas, you can’t help but immediately think of some of the more over-the-top, hilarious and binge-worthy takes on the genre. Think of The Summer I Turned Pretty, Bridgerton or Purple Hearts. But there’s a growing number of romance dramas that are swapping the dramatics for the painstakingly realistic – Normal People, Love Life and Everything I Know About Love are just a few examples – and that’s where BBC One’s highly anticipated new series Marriage comes into play.

Airing this coming Sunday (14 August), Marriage has always promised to be a realistic and heartfelt depiction of long-term love, and boy does it deliver that in droves. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, gritty and flashy depiction of relationships, this isn’t the series for you. Instead, Marriage offers us one of the most sincere depictions of love we’ve seen on TV.

Nicola Walker and Sean Bean as Ian and Emma in BBC’s Marriage.

We follow Nicola Walker (The Split) and Sean Bean (Game Of Thrones), who star as married couple Ian and Emma. We’re not meeting them at the start or end of their journey together; instead, we are just witnesses to a snapshot of their lives. Their 30-year marriage isn’t all sunshine and roses; it’s realistic – they argue over the lack of jacket potatoes available in a Spanish airport in the series’ first scene – and it’s these scenes of bubbling anger that home in on the not-so-pretty side of relationships, something most viewers will undoubtedly be able to sympathise with.  

It’s part of the show’s appeal, and from the start, you realise it’s the kind of brilliant drama that you can’t quite tear your eyes away from. Ian and Emma’s quiet yet ferocious argument on the aeroplane home is indicative of the way we strive to maintain a façade of relationship perfection in public, but sometimes there’s just too much emotion to hide.

Could BBC’s Marriage be one of the most sincere romantic dramas on TV? We think so.

Ian has recently been made redundant and is dealing with the death of his mother, both of which place a different strain on his marriage. But it’s the depiction of him as a quiet, isolated and unconfident older married man that is one of the more interesting things that plays out throughout the four-part series. We see him make fleeting comments about Emma’s younger, flashier male colleague Jamie (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), asking her how her meeting with him went. It’s clearly the beginning of a jealous spiral, but it’s how Ian’s need for attention manifests itself that is intriguing to watch.

On one of his regular trips to the leisure centre, he starts chatting to the receptionist, an interaction that has clearly taken place many times before. What starts off as pleasantries quickly grows awkward; he initially asks her if she has time to work out and then comments on the need for her to “build up a sweat”. It’s enough to get her to take a step into the back room for a breather, only to come out and find him still lingering there. 

We follow her later on as she’s still shaken by the encounter and goes to meet her fiancé afterwards, not telling him about the weird encounter with Ian. But it’s Ian going back to the leisure centre to enquire about her whereabouts that is most chilling and will likely unfold throughout the next three episodes. Moments like these offer us another side of Ian’s personality, and suddenly the well-meaning, awkward persona reveals itself to be something we should rightly be suspicious of. 

Chantelle Alle and Jack Holden as Jessica and Adam in BBC’s Marriage.

Even so, the relationship between Ian and Emma – and the highs and lows that come with it – are the main focus of the series, which is propped up by how natural everything about the series feels.

The easygoing dialogue is only a testament to Stefan Golaszewski’s (Him And Her, Mum) direction, but the series should be watched for Walker and Bean’s performances in particular. Their effortless chemistry really makes you believe them as a long-married couple. It’s reflective in each scene but even in their everyday actions: unpacking the food shopping together, walking down the street holding hands or preparing to host their daughter (Chantelle Alle) and her new boyfriend for dinner. We’re consistently reminded that this is a couple who, no matter what life throws at them, choose to love each other every day.

Romance in real life isn’t always about the flashiest of everything and many recent romantic dramas are guilty of making the genre centre around such aspirational (and fairytale-like) things. As Marriage outlines, though, love is about the shared moments within a relationship, the minute-by-minute life you lead when you’re in a long-term partnership and the inevitable joys (and risks) that come with it all – that’s what makes it so realistic.

Marriage will air on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Sunday 14 August at 9pm. 

Images: BBC

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