thu 02/12/2021

The Affair, Sky Atlantic | reviews, news & interviews

The Affair, Sky Atlantic

The Affair, Sky Atlantic

Acclaimed American infidelity drama hits the ground running

You know it'll end badly: Ruth Wilson and Dominic West yield to temptation

Already a couple of Golden Globes to the good after debuting in the States last year, The Affair effortlessly hit its stride as it landed in Blighty. This opening double episode began generating a subtle miasma of intrigue and vague menace from the off, as teacher and aspiring novelist Noah Solloway (Dominic West) gathered his untidy family together for a summer holiday trip to the in-laws in Montauk, in the Hamptons.

A holiday romance might take many forms, but with any luck will turn out to be just a fleeting by-product of too much sun and alcohol. However, the one getting ready to crash up through the gears here between Noah and Alison (Ruth Wilson), the waitress he first meets in the Lobster Roll diner, feels as if it may have the potential to bring entire dynasties crashing down around it. Noah's marriage to Helen (ER's Maura Tierney) may be merely the first casualty (the Solloways take a vacation, pictured below).

Creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi have deployed some artful devices to make what might have been an only too familiar story feel multi-layered, three-dimensional and unpredictable. Most notable is the way the episodes are split in two, with one half dedicated to Noah's viewpoint and other to Alison's. Thus, the first version we see of the pair's initial encounter is Noah's, and depicts Alison as a knowing seductress coolly reeling him in. But then we see her take on it, in which it's Noah who's making the running and coming on to her with a gauche lack of subtlety.

This ambiguous dance is played out against a complex backdrop of ties and relationships. Noah the tentative new novelist is resentful of the lordly attitude of his father-in-law Bruce Butler (John Doman, impeccably cast), an enormously successful writer whose bestsellers are regularly turned into Hollywood movies. He's a fabled local celebrity, living on his lush oceanside estate, and has a knack for damning with faint praise. "I read your book, " he tells Noah. "I enjoyed most of it very much." Worse, he has loaned Noah and Helen a wad of money, and his "I am considerably richer than you" demeanour obviously irks Noah.

Meanwhile Alison is dragging a trail of baggage of her own. When we see her reading Peter Pan aloud over the grave of her dead child we get some inkling of the extent of her inner emotional damage, and the still-piercing anguish is driving a wedge between her and her husband Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson). Again, through the prism of the double – and doubly unreliable? – narrators, our first glimpse of Cole suggests he's angry and brutal, but the picture is gradually modified as the narrative develops. However, Alison's relationship to the sprawling and slightly smothering Lockhart clan seems guaranteed to be a permanent source of angstfulness (Maura Tierney and Dominic West, pictured below).

And on top of this there's a further layer. There's a running commentary on the action in the form of Noah and Alison being questioned by a police detective about what appeared to be a fatal accident on the night of a big party at the Butler house. We don't know who the victim was yet, except that he was male. We also know the police haven't ruled out murder.

Throw together a little bit of Mad Men, some John Cheever and a sliver of Double Indemnity and you may be in the right ballpark. Chuck in the evocative photography and gently affecting background music, plus two commanding lead performances (West has perfectly judged the dosage of middle-aged sleaze, and Wilson is encouraging him to go for it), and you're looking at something special. The only disappointment is there won't be any endings, unhappy or otherwise, in the foreseeable future – they're already talking about season four.

West has perfectly judged the dosage of middle-aged sleaze, and Wilson is encouraging him to go for it


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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