Television Review

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The Independent Culture
REVELATION REGULARLY plays a role in drama it rarely manages in real life: in real life, secrets are guessed, fears are confirmed and surprises don't happen too often (or at least, they happen infrequently: even that may be too often).

One of the problems with Births, Marriages and Deaths (BBC2) was that it contained far too many revelations, and made them too important. The key moment of last night's final episode was the revelation that the demonic Alan (Ray Winstone) was the father of nice Molly's long-lost son Josh, having raped her in the school toilets when they were both 15. This discovery was the catalyst that finally enabled the rest of the gang to exorcise his malign influence; but it was hard for the viewer to credit it, if only because Josh's paternity had been manifest since some time back in episode two.

After the initial stunning impact of the first episode, Tony Grounds's drama slipped surprisingly quickly into a mid-season slump, with predictability ruptured by moments of faintly gratuitous Grand Guignol. Last night's episode started badly, too. Terry (Mark Strong) stumbled on the corpse of Peter, his step-sons' real father, and was drawn by Alan into a plot to dispose of the body. Grounds struggled to make this seem like a believable course of action, but the fact is that his script and Winstone's monstrous performance had together made Alan too vile and clumsy for this to work: since he had previously run over and killed Terry's wife, alienated Peter (whose co-operation was Terry's only hope of happiness) and gone temporarily but very obviously insane, you wouldn't think Alan had much pull left.

Grounds had my sympathy here: I can't think how a writer goes about constructing a character that can contain Winstone. But the sequence in which Alan, Terry and the put-upon Graham (Phil Davis) set about disposing of the body left me feeling pretty alienated from the whole process.

What redeemed it was the final sequence at Alan's mansion, a Borgia dinner-party in suburbia that turned into a barking mix of Sophocles and Macbeth. Alex (Maggie O'Neill), his meek wife, suddenly turned into a Clytemnestra-like figure, holding a knife to Alan's throat as Graham declared that "The devil's been amongst us". Incest, murder, rape and the ghosts of the dead clustered round the table.

This terribly strange finale more than made up for the earlier sense of bathos. It also gave the programme a hitherto unsuspected sense of optimism. Before, what had been most noticeable in Grounds's writing was the way that the rhetoric of love - "I love ya, mate", "I adore you" - seemed to be constantly disproved: either love was too fragile to survive the pressure of events, or it was a camouflage for self-interest, power or lust. If normality was to be restored, it was going to be a normality underpinned by death and lies.

But with the departure of Alan, everything came up roses - as if all we have to do to achieve happiness is cast out evil. And one of the best touches was saved till last, as Nick Bicat's flamenco theme tune turned out to have, like Elgar's Enigma theme, another, unheard tune running underneath: in this case, a rousing chorus of "I Will Survive". For a moment, it almost had you believing in happy endings.