Lockdown reviews: Isolation Stories

In their wisdom, ITV brought us four short dramas last week to keep us thinking about the current pandemic lockdown.

Made with considerable fanfare and installing cameras in the homes of the performers (and in two cases out of the four utilising their family members on screen), this was a slickly produced quartet of dramas which managed to be a little, well, downbeat overall.

Lockdown dramas have been done regularly online over the past few weeks: the Fight Back Festival and the National eTheatr have dipped into this area, as well as some aspects of All The Web’s A Stage. Using Zoom to create a piece is also nothing new, but this is TV so has a much higher profile.

Sheridan Smith in Isolation Stories
Sheridan Smith in Isolation Stories. ITV.

In the first play, Sheridan Smith played a pregnant woman in total isolation. Her baby’s father has gone back to his wife, she has a video call with dad and stepmum who seem to have a house full of family. Her only meaningful human contact is after sending a ranting voice message to the wrong phone: receiving a call back, it transpires the woman she contacted is trapped in a domestic violence situation. Filmed well enough, I found this aspect disturbing and repellent.

The second play had father and son Robert and Tom Glenister dealing with the sickness of the former from the virus. Again, video call with another son, isolating elsewhere, was used, but this was a deeply miserable play which added nothing to ease the worry of those having to cope in close proximity with an illness they don’t fully understand. The relaationship of this father and son character pair was interesting but stubbornly undeveloped.

Third, Angela Griffin’s psychiatrist had a Zoom consultation with a client played by Darren Boyd. I felt this one was far more successful, showing both the neurosis of the person needing therapy and the realism of the therapist. It also had a warm humour which glowed from both actors (who have never met in person). Despite Boyd’s character putting packages in the fridge to kill germs, it wasn’t a doom and gloom look at the situation.

Darren Boyd in Isolation Stories
Darren Boyd in Isolation Stories. ITV.

Finally, Eddie Marsan and two sons featured as a fractured family whose mum has left them, but whose daft grandad (David Threlfall) comes each day to chat and engage from the other side of the garden patio. This felt very realistic and less confined as it didn’t rely on one room set-ups and screen chat (except for one brief phone message).

An accompanying “how we did this” programme had remote directors and photography specialists talking about forming a programme by technology, and I applaud the results from that point of view, but for me, Isolation Stories lost sight of the television’s role to primarily entertain through its depressing initial tone.