Michele Hewitson: Finding himself in exile

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Tom (John Simm, right) returns home to Lancashire to reluctantly look after his ailing dad (Jim Broadbent) in Exile. Photo / Supplied
Tom (John Simm, right) returns home to Lancashire to reluctantly look after his ailing dad (Jim Broadbent) in Exile. Photo / Supplied

Exile (Monday and for the next two Mondays, 8.30pm, UKTV) is set up north, in Lancashire also here known as a "shithole". So there is English rain, a gloomy, dirty house where an old man with Alzheimer's - who was once a fearless respected journalist - rustles about fruitlessly in his dusty study, calls for his long-gone secretary and has to have his bum wiped by his harried, depressed and skint care-giving daughter.

His son, Tom, is a hack in London on a glossy scandal sheet where he writes malicious crap, snorts cocaine, drinks too much and has an affair with his boss' wife. He's chucked out on his ear. He has nowhere left to go; so he goes home.

He arrives at the gloomy family heap to be greeted by his sister with: "Jesus, you must be in the shit."

Tom left home 18 years ago after his father found him noseying through his files and beat the hell out of him. Tom can't cope with his father, the memories, the bleakness, the responsibility, but mostly the guilt of having left his sister to cope with all of the above.

So of course he buggers off as fast as he can in his very fast car. Come back, says sis, or when Dad dies, she'll bury him and never let Tom know he's dead and never speak to him again. Somewhere lurking deep inside the wreck of what Tom has become, is a spark of decency. He returns, sis takes off in his fast car, for two weeks, leaving father and son to get on with it.

So of course Tom leaves his father at home alone, goes to the local, shags the barmaid (whose sister he shagged when they were all at school and who turns out to be married to one of his old mates).

And we were only about 10 minutes in.

That's good, tight storytelling for you. We had pathos and family secrets and family bonds and sex.

We also had an inkling that we were in for some acting that was going to lift the thing above what could have been all grit and bleakness and grubby sex and interiors.

John Simm as Tom and Jim Broadbent as Sam, the father, are of course brilliant - but the core of the story is held together by the the under-stated performance of Olivia Colman as the sister, Nance.

There is a mystery: what was in those files? So far we have a clue. The husband of the bonking barmaid recognises the name on the file: Metzler. It is the name of his boss: the head of the local council, a powerful man. He and Tom get pissed together and do some bonding for old times' sake - but this is before the husband punches Tom in the face for shagging his wife.

If this was all beginning to sound a bit Californification set in Lancashire - Tom shows a Hank-like talent for stuffing up - it isn't; it's English, for one thing. And it is really a family story - shot and told teeteringly on a claustrophobic edge.

The house, with its layers of old files and furniture and the photos with the post-it notes to remind Sam of the names of his family, is a place that closes in on Sam, Nance and Tom - and on us.

It's exile, and of nobody's choosing; as is whatever is happening inside Sam's head. Tom will venture inside and rustle about (both house and his father's head.)

These are dangerous places to go and no doubt the thriller element of the story will be revealed, tautly. But the really dangerous place to go poking about in is family; it's where exiles end up; here they have no choice.

And having watched the first episode, neither do I.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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