The Split is one of the newest dramas to BBC One, which premiered last Tuesday night. Created by Welsh screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Shame and Suffragette), it centres around the life of elite divorce lawyer Hannah Stern (Nicola Walker), as she “splits” from the family business and deals with the unexpected return of her estranged father.
The first episode in the six-part series (produced by SundanceTV and the BBC) introduces us to Stern: married, mother of three and increasingly distancing herself from mother and former boss, Ruth Defoe (Deborah Findlay). Following her departure from the firm, she finds herself in direct competition with younger sister Nina (Annabel Scholey) on opposing sides of a case between a comedian and his agent, which is only the beginning of this brewing rivalry. To top it off, 30 years after walking out on them, Stern’s father (Anthony Head) returns the day of his ex-wife’s 70th birthday to pass on a card, and, unbeknownst to him, receive a stern (pun intended) telling off from his eldest daughter.
If you want a weighty leading lady, Nicola Walker is that woman. (If you’ll pardon me, I tried and failed to avoid the unfortunate rhyming combination of a woman and her weight…) Famed for her roles as Ruth Evershed and Gillian in Spooks and Last Tango in Halifax, respectively, she has the skill of portraying characters with ease and confident familiarity, and it really does seem as if there’s a high dose of naturally occurring charisma coursing through her veins. It could be her blue-grey eyes, or the way she looks through them; either way she’d still have that intense intrigue about her – the camera loves her. For this latest gig, Walker rocks a sandy blonde bob haircut, boldly embodying a top-class lawyer in a top position. I secretly think she’s revelling in the fact that she gets to play someone so chic and sophisticated, someone who has it all, someone so… ruthless (couldn’t resist); who wouldn’t?
Set in London and with a tone that is clean and sleek (it’s middle-class people with the best of jobs and lots of money, of course it is), we see business heavily intertwined with the personal, which is far from flawless. From resurfacing absent fathers to younger siblings preparing their upcoming nuptials – even old persistent flames, who also happen to be near colleagues – there are about 10 things going on, and for a programme introducing us to so many characters at once, The Split is nicely balanced; something to be expected from Morgan, a BAFTA®-nominated screenwriter (The Iron Lady, Best Original Screenplay). The writing of these messy, strained and undefined relationships is laid-back, and presented in a very natural and unforced way through direction handled by Jessica Hobbs.
Morgan – who has worked on multiple occasions with the likes of Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan – and fellow producers, including Jane Featherstone, aced the cast selection, with quite a few familiar faces starring. Along with Walker, we have Stephen Mangan (Episodes, Green Wing) who plays husband Nathan; Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Little Britain) as her father Oscar; Meera Syal (The Kumars at No. 42); and appearances from comedian Mathew Baynton and Tanya Franks (Eastenders). On the soundtrack side, listen out for a great appearance of “Better Now” by Australian singer Cloves to accompany a beautiful crescendo towards the end.
It’s only the first episode, but I already hope there will be a series two.
Watch ‘The Split’ on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM on BBC One.
For more information and to catch up on previous episodes, visit The Split’s official BBC website.