TCovid documentaries have gotten thick and fast. We have had movies recorded in real time by doctors. We have had thoughtful summaries linking our responses and those of other countries with the benefit of hindsight. Earlier this week, we had a Horizon special on developing vaccines that can, without hyperbole, save the world.
Art, however, takes more time. The factual programming has been, almost without exception, wildly good: sober, meticulous, dealing with and grappling with vast amounts of data and dramatic footage in ways understandable and valuable to an exhausted, bewildered, and secular audience. He has informed us, brilliantly. But it is the art, the stories we tell ourselves about extraordinary and often traumatic experiences, that help us come to terms with them. By Dennis Kelly Together (BBC Two) may be the first major work for a mass audience to succeed in this endeavor.
This 90-minute two-handed claustrophobic was directed by Stephen Daldry and shot in just 10 days. It is about a couple at war who come together because of the confinement. There will be some for whom your black comedy doesn’t work at all. It’s not exactly what we expect from television. For starters, it’s all talk (monologues often, duologue the rest of the time) and very little action. There is an inescapable stagnation in it, since it is within the confines of a single house. The characters (named in the credits have only “He” – James McAvoy – and “She” – Sharon Horgan) speak only among themselves or, breaking the fourth wall, directly with the viewer. They frequently overlap each other, rather than taking turns speaking. You can see that it can put some people off.
But if you don’t get discouraged, if you like it, or if you lean, or maybe if you lean to the side and circle the unexpected presentation towards what’s behind, Together is an absolute marvel. From construction, as free conversations return and retell old themes, different perspectives illuminate the same events or the past is remembered and becomes revelation. On performance, with McAvoy and Horgan giving it their all as the divided couple who, despite their many disparities and difficulties, are clearly not done with each other yet. From the writing, with Kelly capturing not just the specific tensions of the confinement, but the particular enmity of a couple held together only by the child they shouldn’t have had. And, in the end, the cautious approach that can come if a couple makes the journey – as strange circumstances can sometimes force them – to any “rarefied” land, as He puts it, awaits them on the other side of hatred.
It is also a miracle of compression. It perfectly captures the emotional waste of a dying relationship. If there is someone who does not recognize anything about himself, a partner or a society in their bitter exchanges, especially during the last row (although it is cathartic), I want to live inside your head and your life forever.
Together they assimilated the effects of the blockade from the insignificant (supermarkets are running out of stock) to the tragic. Her elderly mother is persuaded to go to a nursing home early in the confinement, when her daughters think it will be safer for her to live alone or have multiple caregivers and potential disease vectors visit her. The chronicle of his hospitalization, with Horgan balanced on the cusp of disbelief and total collapse, was a tour de force of writing and acting. It also managed to integrate the personal into its broader political context, especially with She’s seemingly simple and emotionally devastating account of what the phrase “exponential growth” really means when applied to an infection rate. “So, I can’t escape the feeling that Mom didn’t die, she was killed… out of stupidity, out of nonsense,” She says. It was a moment to mourn for all that we have lost.
He has a counterpart monologue, which ends the book with an anecdote from the first act about an encounter with a supermarket clerk. It encapsulated the inertia of society, even after the cataclysm and the desire for change of many people, and eliminated all the tears and optimism that remained by then.
Yet Together still ends up where it counts, in Kelly’s world, as a note of hope (he’s the creator of Utopia and The Third Day, Horgan’s collaborator on Pulling, and a master of brutally realistic choices). The couple decide that their relationship’s collapsing ruin is worth propping up: “strange, infuriating, irritating, depressing.” At least long enough to go out and look together at the dead parakeet his son has found in the garden, on the other side of hatred.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism