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Breaking up is hard to do...
Life Begins - Series 1 (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
Life Begins - Series 1 (DVD)
Advantages: Funny, but sensitive, look at starting life again after a break up
Disadvantages: Perhaps most likely to appeal to women in a similar situation
Maggie Mee - 39 and married with two children - thinks that her life is going well, until her husband Phil throws a spanner in the works. He isn't happy with the marriage and wants some time out to decide what he wants from life. Devastated, Maggie has no choice but to pick herself up and carry on for the sake of the children. Worse is to come when Maggie discovers that Phil is seeing someone - a successful blonde from his place of work - and that she is going to have to go back to work to make ends meet. Slowly, life begins to improve for Maggie though and she feels more hopeful about the future, aided by her new work colleagues and old friends. But will Phil come back and ruin things when he realises that Maggie is attractive to other men?
Maggie is played by Caroline Quentin in a role that I have to say I truly appreciated, mainly because my circumstances are similar, albeit minus the children. Quentin will always be Dorothy from Men Behaving Badly for me, and in many ways, this role is a continuation of that - things she says and does could have come straight out of an older Dorothy's mouth. However, Maggie isn't quite as comic - there are some truly funny moments, particularly involving a dildo, but there are also some very sad ones, particularly at the beginning just after the break up. I would perhaps have liked to see a bit more angst - she does seem to pick herself up amazingly quickly - but then watching a woman weeping and wailing wouldn't have made great TV. I don't think this is particularly a role that stretches Quentin, but she is convincing in the role and I could really identify with her predicament. Most of all, she has the 'likeability factor' and her zest for life is infectious - a real encouragement to the many women (and, to a certain extent, men) who find themselves in the same situation.
I've always been a fan of Alexander Armstrong, although I'm more familiar with his comedy roles than his straighter ones - and as Phil, there are precious little laughs here. That isn't to say he doesn't give a good performance though, because he does. Although Phil is selfish, Armstrong manages to keep the role real enough that you can't completely hate him. I don't think this is going to be a role that I equate Armstrong with in the future, but it is a competent one. It would be unfair to avoid mention of Maggie and Phil's children, played by Elliot Henderson Boyle and Ace Destiny Ryan (crikey) - they are slightly precocious, but are nevertheless very reminiscent of every almost teenager that I have ever met.
I really enjoyed Anne Reid and Frank Finlay as Maggie's parents. Reid plays the over-bearing mother, overly critical of her daughter, very convincingly, but she really comes into her own when her husband is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Maggie is much closer to her father and is devastated to find that he is slowly forgetting things that he has always known - Finlay manages it very well without turning the role into the farce that it could have been. Finally, Maggie's friends, played by Claire Skinner and Stuart McQuarrie, who add a touch of humour and lots more of the 'likeability factor' to the proceedings.
I missed most of the series when it was televised (there have been three series so far, between 2004 and 2006, and there may be a fourth), and I'm actually quite surprised that the audience figures, which were in the region of 10 million during the first series, were as high as they were. I suspect Quentin's success in Men Behaving Badly didn't do it any harm, but really it is something that I would have thought was only relevant to women, like me, 'of a certain age'. However, in hindsight, perhaps it is light-hearted enough to appeal to people of differing ages. It certainly is an inspiring story to see Maggie, and, after all, every Brit loves an under-dog.
The humour is nicely under-stated, and, I would imagine, is going to appeal to a British audience more than any other. It is occasionally quite cheeky, with some sexual innuendo, and the occasional appearance of Maggie and Phil in bed, but not with each other. And then there is the dildo. I thought the dildo scene was hilarious, but obviously it is not appropriate for children, hence the rating of 15. There is also a scene with one of Maggie's colleagues after she has had an abortion. I think this could have been a more important part of the plot, but, probably for ratings' sake, the powers that be cut it as short as possible.
One of the best things about the series is that the episodes are a meaty forty-five to fifty minutes. This really enables us to get to know the characters and come to care for what happens to them - or not, as the case is with Phil! All too often, ITV opt for the shorter sitcom length of half an hour (more like twenty minutes with adverts taken into consideration). As it is, I was left with the feeling that I was watching quality entertainment that wasn't cut too short. Unfortunately, the six episodes of the first series over two discs is all that we are given - there are no extras, unless you count scene selection and subtitles. However, that isn't a great surprise, and the quality of the episodes kept me quite happy.
I really enjoyed watching this series and wish I had paid more attention to it when it was televised. It is a great combination of comedy and drama, and it looks at that portion of the market that I think is often neglected - the late thirties/early forties woman who finds herself dumped. Then again, I would say that, being one of them. Whatever, the show was hugely successful, so clearly I am not the only one that enjoyed it - if you haven't seen it yet, it is definitely worth a watch. Recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £3.99! Bargain.
Running time: 276 minutes
Summary: A sensitive, but funny, look at a marriage break up
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