Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Shock (2.1)

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: The Woman in the Attic (2.2)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Surprise! (2.3)
BBC Series 2

It’s good to see a second series of the most underrated BBC drama from 2010 – Roger & Val Have Just Got In. Starring Alfred Molina and Dawn French as the eponymous middle-aged married couple, the programme covers the first 30 minutes of their arrival home in real time. Beneath the slice of life conversation about everyday events, a picture is slowly revealed of the stresses and strains of their life together. For some bizarre reason, the BBC labeled the first series as a comedy, perhaps on the basis of Dawn French’s history as a comedy actor. This may have been why so many viewers were disappointed. While there are some comedic elements, Roger & Val is an understated and powerful drama about the secrets, lies, and evasions of a couple who are fundamentally devoted to each other.

We learned in the first series about the ghost in their marriage, a son who died after only a few weeks, still carried in Val’s heart but repressed in Roger’s mind as too painful to think about. Roger has another worry – the imminent death of his father, which occurs during the timeframe of the show. Stressed beyond measure, he sends a politically incorrect email to a woman at work and gets the sack. (He’s a botanist in a Winter Garden.) It doesn’t help that there’s already a lot of acrimony between Roger and his boss. Val, a domestic science teacher, has secrets of her own. She still thinks fondly of an old flame and Roger is jealous.

All this makes for an explosive mixture. Val decides to leave Roger in the fallout from the detonation, but their love for each other brings them back together again.

The second series begins with Roger waiting for his employment tribunal, and Val waiting to find out if her application for the deputy headship is successful. They return from their neice’s wedding on a Sunday evening, sparring about how Roger stank up the hotel bathroom so Val didn’t have a chance to take a proper bath that morning. Val doesn’t want the lamps turned on because she wants to unpack everything while the house is still “bleak.” After that it can be bright, and comfortable. But the fire is turned on. This plot device is quite important because it turns on neither of them noticing a particular letter in the hall, delivered by hand, for Roger.

They do have the original, vinyl recording of Rolf Harris singing Two Little Boys, the copy Roger and his brother, Mike, had as kids. It’s a present from Mike to encourage him at the employment tribunal. And they have the letter telling Val she’s been shortlisted for the deputy headship.

There’s an hilarious bit about her preparation for the interview – practicing with a cardboard box on her head in front of the mirror. One side is cut out to reveal her face. the other sides have pictures of, respectively, Martina NavratilovaHilary Clinton, and “Margaret who was on The Apprentice,” with the eyes cut out so she can see. These are the personas she will present at the interview.

But Roger and Val don’t have the letter that’s been lurking unseen in the hall. There they are, bumbling around out there and turning on the lamps until you think they must be blind. Finally, Roger spots it, and his reaction is very strange. He furtively stuffs it into his back pocket, peers through the curtains to see if anyone saw him, and goes out to the garage to read it. He returns obviously deeply worried, fumbling the packet of flour that Val asks him to get down from a cupboard and spilling it over his head. In the living room, he turns off the light so he can read the letter again without being seen. Shock, just as the episode title says – he visibly sags. And Mike’s irreplaceable record, placed on the mantelpiece, has melted in the heat from the fire.

Brilliant cliffhanger plotting and more secrets to come in this splendid domestic drama. Shock is still available on the BBC iPlayer. I urge you watch it while you can.

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