In three plot-filled seasons, The Split explores a host of family problems
British actress Nicola Walker, who has won the hearts of many Americans in River, Last Tango in Halifax, Unforgotten, and perhaps to a lesser extend in Annika, heads a first-rate cast in the three-season long BBC television series The Split. Available from several streaming sources as well as on DVD, The Split introduces viewers to the London-based female Defoe family and their spouses and partners.
The mother, Ruth Defoe, played by Deborah Findlay, is a high-powered divorce lawyer, as is her daughter Hannah. That’s Nicola Walker. There are two other Defoe sisters, Nina, who might have the makings of a fine lawyer if it weren’t for her excessive drinking and sex drive. Last of all is daughter Rose, who along with her beloved partner James, has her own lifestyle but keeps close to the family. The father abandoned his family and departed London many years previously. This series primarily focuses on the Defoe women and their present lifestyles.
Season one was telecast in 2018, and season three ended this spring. The many interesting plotlines that once were lose are all pretty much tidied up, and there will be no fourth season. Enthusiastic viewers are in mourning!
In the sparklingly modern, tastefully decorated offices of Noble Hale Defoe, divorce lawyers come and go, representing clients intending to win large settlements or seeking revenge over hurtful behavior by a mean or wayward spouse. At times, the offices and their busy conference rooms seem like a divorce factory, with the dissolution of marriage as their product. However, as the series progresses, Hannah’s married life becomes complicated and suddenly divorce does not seem like such a business-oriented procedure.
Aside from the talented actors, the element that makes The Split succeed above so many other television series is its writing by Abi Morgan. In 2011, Morgan wrote The Iron Lady, an Oscar and BAFTA-winning film starring Meryl Streep about Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to cope with the death of her husband. The same year she co-wrote Shame with Steve McQueen. Several years later, she wrote the screenplay for Suffragette.
One of the best projects created by Abi Morgan is River, a mini-series from 2015, which stars Stellan Skargard and Nicola Walker. Skarsgard plays police detective John River who has recently lost his partner Jackie Stevenson under questionable circumstances. She certainly is dead, but that does not stop her constant return to his side. River is a man who suffers. He lives with ghosts. He has to deal with the fact that he never professed his deep love for Jackie. He also has to deal with various unseemly events in which she was involved. River is available for home viewing. It’s a knock-out! The scenario makes great use of a 1970s British disco number “I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)” sung by Tina Charles. I fell in love with that disco song and had the guys at my gym play it as I walked on the treadmill. So moving is a particular moment at the end of River, that I practically forced my late husband Rob Edelman to watch the sequence a couple times, even though he had not seen the rest of the series.
The Split combines brilliant production values, emphasizing London’s stylish bridges and newer buildings, with great characters played by fine actors. The plot developments come fast and furiously. The problems of family relations, challenges to marriages, and so many side issues that wreak havoc on people’s lives, all are present in The Split. In 18 hour-long episodes, The Split builds a plausible world. So many viewers feel bereft to see it end.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and retired appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her late husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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