Monday, 18 June 2012

True Love: No script, some drama, Tennant/Piper tv reunion opportunity missed, probably for best

There's a good reason why television drama has scripts, and there's a good reason why actors need them.

It generally makes better tv.

With a script, the actors know what to say and when. They don't end up talking over each other or missing the dramatic point of the scene they're acting in. It also probably gives them something to moan about in rehearsals, or something to do with their pink highlighter.

Scripts - at least, good scripts - mean that what we hear will do justice to the story it's telling, whether it is funny or scary or sad, and that each scene will work as part of the overall narrative.

And so no script means we're relying on the talent of the actor to wing it a bit.

But fortunately for True Love, the five part improvised series on BBC One about relationships, it has some good actors in it, and is managing okay without a script - but at times only just.

'Copes admirably'

With less skillful - or popular - actors, a performer's ego-driven desire to make themselves the centre of a scene, or to come up with wildly off-beat and self-serving input ('I really think my character would be the only one to speak here, darling') would have to be constantly reigned in by a knackered director, or cut to shreds in editing.

But here, in episode one, a glum and selfish Nick, played by David Tennant, copes admirably with not only his character's confusion, but with no script telling him what to say or do.

Nick, happily married to Ruth and with two teenage kids, meets up with an unexpectedly returning former love, Serana, and then lies about it to his wife before romping in a hotel room (let's not go into that shall we), and then apparently abandoning plans to elope and start again.


And via a few emotionally-important scenes - Nick's confiding in his workmate, or his shameless lying to Ruth that he hadn't seen his ex, who she'd coincidentally bumped into too - the improvised nature means they feel like real and sometimes quite awkward conversations, which perhaps helps with the empathy towards the characters. In other words, you feel a bit awkward watching it, too.

The effect of the improvisation - worked out by the actors and based around a storyline devised by  director and creator Dominic Savage - is that sentences can be clumsy or unconvincing, which contrasts a bit with an undeniable visual slickness of the programme itself, set in, um, Margate, seen here as all remote beaches and breezy promenades.

So, while there's full marks for trying something different, and for having a go (David Tennant has said he found the idea of working without a script terrifying), there are also perhaps marks deducted for the missed opportunity of not having fellow True Love actor Billie Piper in this episode (thereby creating an inexplicable and unidentifiable thrill for Doctor Who fans to see the two actors reunited on-screen again) - although obviously that's exactly why that hasn't happened.

We wouldn't believe it.

And with further episodes featuring not only Piper (playing a teacher tempted by a female pupil in a slightly-too-big-for-only-30-minutes storyline), but other top tv acting 'talent' such as Jane Horrocks, David Morrissey and Ashley Walters, it's almost like the producers have insured themselves against any risks of not having a script.

However, we can't help but think of another bonus of having a script: a better ending.

Instead of an expected showdown where the writer rolls out his best lines, or a confrontation scene in a kitchen while pasta boils on the hob like an EastEnders-on-sea, in episode one we get a final scene that is a tender, reflective and sad - and with almost no dialogue.

Nick and his wife reunite, in bed, as he whispers 'I'm sorry', which, we imagine, must be the definition of the true love of the title, rather than what we thought at first, when we saw the re-emergence of old passions towards a reappearing ex.

Who knows though, eh? There wasn't a script!


  1. Episode three: When did it become acceptable for teachers to have sex with their pupils?

  2. I agree - I didn't really buy the fact that Billie Piper's character would fall for her pupil so easily, no matter how unhappy she was with her (male) married lover. Probably (at least in part) a sympton of the 30 minute duration and having a lot of story to get through in such a short time. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I liked the last episode ("Adrian") the best, I think. Crazy chick hopefully went away. Proved that the deeper, more understanding, more knowing relationship can survive many things.

    I don't believe it's necessary that someone always has to get hurt in order for "True Love" to occur.

    Maybe this series should have been named Forbidden Love.

  4. Thanks for your comment - I was pleased that 'Adrian' ended the series on a more optimistic note too and David Morrissey was fantastic in it. But he really should have just driven the school girl Lorraine straight home!

  5. I enjoyed watching 'Holly' and 'Adrian'. It's a shame BBC didn't upload series on youtube. Wasn't on bbc iplayer for long. Really impressed to know that the actors were improvising. Thanks

  6. Thanks for your comment. The series passed in a bit of a flash didn't it - only on for four nights in a row. That's also why it disappeared from iPlayer so quickly as episodes only stay on for 7 days after they're first broadcast, but there's always the possibility True Love might get a repeat showing on BBC Four sometime, and it's also out on DVD.

  7. I didn't realise that it was improvised before I watched it and actually thought their acting and 'script' was excellent. My criticism would be that there wasn't much of a plot which, as you said, lead to dwindling endings. Still, best thing I've seen in a while and a great piece for the showreel of all actors involved.