Together is a select member of a new genre – the Covid Drama – and sees Sharon Horgan back working again with Dennis Kelly. Together they co-wrote Pulling, the TV relationship comedy that made both their names. Kelly went on to create and write the TV conspiracy thriller Utopia and Horgan to co-write the popular comedy series Catastrophe. This time around he writes, she acts (though you can’t rule out the possibility that there’s a fair amount of improvising going on too).
Flipping the actual experience of many people – who found that the whole Covid experience (particularly the lockdowns in the UK) caused their relationship to buckle – Together is a funny/angry examination of a married couple who we join in a state of verbal warfare. They hate each other. She wishes he’d get cancer, one of the horrible ones, not testicular or skin cancer; he goes into great length about how much he hates individual parts of her body. Not hate them as parts of a body – he’s happy to concede that she’s got cute bits – just when they’re attached to her.
Obviously, given where He and She (as they’re billed) are, things cannot get much worse. Together tracks their journey, him the working-class “bootstraps” kind of right-winger who is permanently angry with everything, her the virtue-signalling leftie – even their politics are at odds – as Covid throws extended close proximity, career hiccups and personal tragedy in their way.
They speak to each other but mostly they speak to camera, a confessor figure before whom they have no secrets or shame. It’s a conspiratorial, stage-derived style of address and it works for what could so easily have been a drama in the multiscreen style of the Covid Horror Zoom – but isn’t. Director Stephen Daldry and his co-director Justin Martin are clearly drawing on their backgrounds at the UK’s Royal National Theatre.
The whole thing was shot in ten days and has a functional newsy vibe, with stats from the Covid year flashed up on the screen (this many dead, this many vaccinated) and manages to catch the atmosphere of 2020 in a way that – only a few months on – makes that era seem already distant, though as I write Covid is still killing and hospitalising people.
There is acting to make you marvel. Horgan is very good, but James McAvoy, speaking in his own Scottish voice for a change, is better, but then the bolshie husband’s character’s journey is a longer one so McAvoy gets to show more of his range. But then if you’ve seen that M Night Shyamalan drama Split, about a kidnapper with multiple personalities, you’ll know how good McAvoy can be (a lot better than the film itself in that case).
No one dies in this, on screen at least, but Together stops at many of the familiar Covid waystations – food shortages, the debacle that saw sick old people decanted out of hospitals and into care homes, Christmas “cancelled”, discussions about whether the world will be different, maybe better, “afterwards”.
There’s the occasional moment where the political soapbox comes out and Kelly unloads about the government signally failing to govern, though mostly it’s him and her, her and him, and a love-to-hate-you relationship being worked through at length and at volume. And through all the ranting and raging wanders Artie, their “weird” kid, who acts as a kind of silent Greek chorus, or perhaps represents us, the missing audience, barely uttering a word, keeping himself to himself, loitering on the stairs while his parents shout at each other, or flicking food on the window pane by the front door – you make your own entertainment.
It’s written from the UK perspective and is designed for UK consumption though much of it will ring true even if you’re not familiar with Tesco Metro or have never watched Bridgerton on TV. It’s a variation on what many people have gone through in the past year or so parcelled up and re-presented back to them as a form of cathartic entertainment, a chamber piece shot through with the kind of skewed, conflicted optimism that is Kelly’s speciality.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021