fri 03/12/2021

Mrs Wilson, BBC One review - real-life secrets and lies | reviews, news & interviews

Mrs Wilson, BBC One review - real-life secrets and lies

Mrs Wilson, BBC One review - real-life secrets and lies

Ruth Wilson stars in her own family's amazing tale of deception

Trust me, I'm a spy: Ruth Wilson as Alison, Iain Glen as Alexander

In which the titular Mrs Wilson is played by her real-life granddaughter Ruth Wilson, in an intriguing tale of subterfuge both personal and professional. The curtain rose over suburban west London in the 1960s, where Alison Wilson was married to Alec (Iain Glen) and was the proud mother of their two sons.

Then Alec suffered a sudden fatal heart attack, whereupon Alison found everything she’d taken for granted disintegrating around her.

As if the shock of bereavement wasn’t bad enough, her world took a violent sideways lurch when a woman turned up on her doorstep claiming to be her late husband’s wife, Gladys. Impossible! Or was it? We began to learn more detail about the lives of Alison and Alec, and how Alison had joined the Secret Intelligence Service in 1940 (she was recruited by a woman known only as Coleman, played by the redoubtable Fiona Shaw, pictured below). Alec was then Major Alexander Wilson, basking in a raffish reputation as an ace intelligence agent as well as being a successful thriller writer, responsible for the “Leonard Wallace Mysteries”.

It began to seem that perhaps the twinkly-eyed (and married) Major had difficulty separating fact from fiction, or maybe he just enjoyed creatively mixing them up. As he explained to Alison (whom he was soon plying with champagne over dinner), “working here you have to keep secrets, even from your family.” Or families.

Aided by atmospheric design and cinematography, enhanced by Anne Nikitin’s characterful music, Mrs Wilson sketched the ‘60s with a shrewd but affectionate eye – the clothes, the shops, the architecture, the cars by Hillman and Rover and Morris – and pungently evoked the dangerous, exciting wartime years (a little too exciting when Alison was almost obliterated by a Luftwaffe bomb). It was easy to see how the young Alison McKelvie, a bright-eyed ingenue from Cumberland, could have been intoxicated by the Major’s mysterious and glamorous aura as the world was in free-fall around them. His story of how he had to appear to be publicly disgraced in order to be secretly whisked off to Cairo to weed out Nazi sympathisers was wildly romantic, and quite possibly a tissue of lies.

With hindsight, it began to dawn on her that the “undercover missions” he was supposedly undertaking on his many absences may have been code for liaisons of various different kinds. As for the divorce certificate from Gladys he’d shown her, wasn’t forging documents all part of the secret agent’s bag of tricks?

With two more episodes to go, there are plenty more threads from the spider’s web to unravel, not least the story of Alec’s pre-war time in India and, apparently, yet another wife, Dorothy (Keeley Hawes), so far only glimpsed hovering in the margins. It may be a cliché to say that we can never really know anybody completely, but Alison Wilson learned it in the hardest possible way.

As for the divorce certificate he’d shown her, wasn’t forging documents all part of the secret agent’s bag of tricks?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters