Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Barcelona. the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum, the academy, the Miro museum. Bistros, trattorias, canals, picturesque hotels, cocktails, dazzling sunshine on the sparkling Mediterranean.
It sounds like the prepandemic party of a thousand fantasies, and it is. In the four-part miniseries ‘Us’, which premiered on Sunday The ‘masterpiece of PBS“, Tom Hollander (” The Night Manager “) and Saskia Reeves (” Luther “) play the roles of Douglas and Connie Petersen, a middle-aged married couple taking their cranky teenage son, Albie (Tom Taylor), in a” great “European” tour before leaving home to study photography at university.
There is just a small catch; Connie told Douglas their marriage was over. And Douglas is determined to change his mind.
Adapted by British writer David Nicholls, from his own Booker-nominated novel of the same name, and shot between July and October 2019, “Us” is a gentle but penetrating look at the passage of time and the way in which relationships harden. . diagram. Like the book, the series swings between the present and flashbacks that show how young Douglas (Iain De Caestecker) and Connie (Gina Bramhill) met. He is a biochemist, inhibited, orderly and risk averse. She is an artist, impulsive and who likes to have fun. (When she offers him medication the first time they meet, he says, “No thanks, I took a pill for indigestion.”)
They have an opposite-attraction relationship, eventually marry, and have a baby girl, who dies a few days after birth. Later they have Albie. But as their son prepares to leave the house, Connie decides she should follow suit. “I want changeShe says to Douglas, who looks at her blankly.
In a phone interview, Nicholls said the inspiration for the novel came from the book tours he undertook while promoting his bestseller “One Day,” which was turned into a film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. “I didn’t really travel to Europe until my 30s, partly because I couldn’t afford it, but also because I felt intimidated,” Nicholls said. “Then on a book tour, I rushed through all these wonderful cities and really fell in love with them.”
“Us,” his next novel, “was a love letter to Europe,” he said, written with the belief that Brexit would not happen.
Of course, he finally did. But by the time the series aired on the BBC last September, the pandemic had supplanted the complications of Brexit, and Britain was still partly on lockdown. “Rather than a love letter to Europe,” said Nicholls regretfully, “the series has become a love letter to leave home.”
Critics fainted at the unmasked, hand sanitizer-less vision of people jumping in and out of trains, walking through crowded squares and making impulsive decisions. “Should they see the Mona Lisa?” »Wrote Rebecca Nicholson in The Guardian. “I was practically screaming onscreen that they should try their luck while they can because it won’t always be that easy.” The show, wrote Ed Cumming in The Independent, is a pre-containment vision of paradise. “The Louvre! What a lovely concept.
Art, both in the book and in the series, is a stealthy means of change for Douglas, who shifts from worrying about how to react (“at least someone is having a worse vacation than us,” he then said. they contemplate “The Raft of the Medusa” at the Louvre), to a more emotionally sensitive approach as he and Connie stroll through the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona, in the last episode.
The series offers lavish views of high art, as the family continues to play out their dysfunctional dynamic in some of Europe’s largest museums and most picturesque public spaces. “It’s a real escape,” said Susanne Simpson, executive producer of “Masterpiece”. “You really get this great tour of Europe; museums, restaurants, street life. It is a joyous and bittersweet experience.
Taylor said doing the show was almost as exciting. “It was amazing to tour these galleries, and sometimes to have them for yourself,” he said, noting that he, Reeves and Hollander spent time rehearsing intensely inside the British Museum for ” determining the dynamics and getting the right family chemistry. ”(Anyone who has come in contact with a moody teenager is likely to find the dynamics surprisingly precise.)
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In some ways, Nicholls said, it was easier to create a balanced view of family in the show than in the novel, which was written in the first person from Douglas’ perspective. Hollander, whose company Bandstand Productions co-produced the series with Drama Republic, said there had been “a lot of conversation with Connie,” especially in the months leading up to filming.
“In the book, we see it through Douglas’ eyes because he tells the story,” Hollander said in a telephone interview. “On screen, we wanted what was happening to her to be fully articulated.”
The result, Reeves said, is a more nuanced picture of the damage inflicted by Douglas’ tendency to “pin things down and analyze them.”
“I think her inability to see and appreciate a creative mind – which Albie is also – is what kills things for Connie,” she said. “This is also why she is determined to continue the journey; art will nourish her, nourish her confidence.
The couple’s conflict, like the rest of the series, is sketched out with a skillful blend of comedy and pain.
“That’s David’s skill and what Tom is so good at – being totally truthful but funny,” Reeves said. “I wanted to show that the breakdown of a relationship is shared; no one is perfect, no one is mean. There are all kinds of dysfunctions in their marriage that have as much to do with her as he does.
Other changes from the novel included a reduction in the total number of destinations, a decision made for budgetary and logistical reasons. Still, the schedule was grueling, said Geoffrey Sax, who directed all the episodes.
“There were over 162 sets with four crews in five countries – England, France, Spain, Holland, Italy – and three different calendars,” he said. “Sometimes we would shoot the 1990s in the morning, today at lunchtime and 10 years earlier in the afternoon.”
They also shot all of the many train scenes in real time on real trains, Sax added, with little scope for replays. “It was an economic decision, but also more immediate and more truthful,” he said. “There was no time to agonize.”
Although the series gives more voice to Connie and Albie – whose personality emerges more fully in the second half of the series – the guiding line remains the tragicomic evolution of Douglas as he confronts his deepest fear. : this Connie, whom he always adored, will leave him. Hollander, one of Britain’s most versatile and compelling actors, said he was immediately drawn to the role, both as a performer and as a producer.
“It’s a brilliant role because he’s a character who has always tried to impose the things that have worked for him – a planned and order-based system – and has to realize and accept that his son and his wife are different types of people, ”he said. (“Although he’s not James Bond, which is obviously the dream,” he added, unmoved.)
When the series aired in Britain, Hollander recalled thinking “this is the vacation nobody got to spend”. Now, he said, “We are vaguely becoming aware that it may not be like this anymore. It’s gone from a replacement vacation to nostalgia for the recent past.
But as Simpson pointed out, the show has a simple yet uplifting message that “sounds like something we all need to hang on to right now.” As Connie tells Douglas at one point, life will go on, “and it will be good.”