Starring: Will Mellor, Oona Chaplin, Neil Maskell, Sheridan Smith, Ben Chaplin, Andrew Scott, Greg McHugh, Katie McGrath, Gemma Chan, Montana Thompson, Sian Breckin
There is a maxim that the best ideas are usually the simplest. This can easily apply to new inventions, attempts to convey a message, and even works surprisingly well in the media world.
UK TV is home to Channel 4, a channel that over the last few decades has produced many daring, intelligent, homegrown dramas and it’s latest, Dates, shows that you don’t need loud explosions, or convoluted story lines to create something powerful.
The concept is straightforward enough. Set amidst the bright lights of London, the show follows various people, showcasing the rewards and pitfalls of online dating, and their attempt to connect with others when looking for Mr or Miss Right. Often this leads to discoveries about themselves, as well as those they pursue.
Each episode centres around one couple, and follows them from the start of their date, right through to it’s, usually unhappy, conclusion. Whilst all nine installments are relatively self-contained stories, there are ultimately three core stories in play:
Mia, David and Stephen – A love triangle, pitting a surgeon (Ben Chaplin) against a lorry driver (Mellor) for the affection of the mysterious and beautiful Mia (Oona Chaplin).
Jenny – The jilted woman (Smith) who has light fingers and low self-confidence.
Erica – A Chinese lesbian (Chan), hiding her sexuality from her overbearing brother.
Every story has it’s merits and some have surprising outcomes, but the real strength of this show is made on the back of the story of Mia, David and Stephen. Erica and Jenny’s stories are decent, but it was the love triangle that I was desperate to watch each week. This is also reflected in the amount of screen time it was granted, as the writers devoted five episodes to it, compared to two each for the Erica and Jenny.
All of the actors involved, especially Mellor, Chaplin and Chaplin, are at their finest. Mellor has always been likeable and it is nice to see him finally breaking out into serious drama. In a career that has often confined him to comedies aimed at young adults, his turn as the “everyman” David suits him perfectly. This follows his appearances in Broadchurch, and may just signal a change in career path.
It is also good to see the once hotly tipped Ben Chaplin returning to our screens as surgeon Stephen. After a few appearances on UK ‘telly’, Chaplin tried to conquer Hollywood, with mixed success, and has long been missed from our screens. He works wonders in Dates and arguably his character has one of the more difficult and interesting journeys. At times unbearably smug but with moments of real depth of character, Stephen is a fully rounded and realistic personality that Chaplin has breathed life into.
The final actor I want to focus on is Oona Chaplin, who is a girl going places. Following her appearances as Robb Stark’s ever graceful wife in hit show Game of Thrones, her portrayal of Mia in Dates could not be more different. Elegantly and promiscuously, she dangles two men in front her in the pursuit of love, but is conflicted about how she feels for both, and indeed about herself.
It must also be said that one of the real stars of this show cannot even be seen. Creator Bryan Elsley, famous for also co-creating the hit E4 drama Skins, pulled a masterstroke when devising this show, and also gathering together a bunch of strong writers to showcase their talents. It is also no coincidence that the best episodes in the series were scripted by Elsley himself. I am intrigued to see what he does next, having produced two great dramas already.
Haunting, funny, touching and thought-provoking, Dates is everything you would want in a top class show. It should also be succesful in bridging the gap perfectly between the younger and more adult audiences, with it’s deft mix of sexiness and drama. It goes to show that there is nothing finer than watching two exceptionally talented actors go back and forth at each other, magically giving life to the words of a writer at the top of his game.
Rating 4.5 out of 5
Did you know? Oona Chaplin is the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin. That’s right, in Game of Thrones you can see the bottom of Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter. I thought the guys might want to know that.