The 7.39 review
David Morrissey, Olivia Colman & Sheridan Smith, three of the small screens biggest talents take central stage in David Nicholls (Cold Feet, One Day, Starter for Ten) prime time BBC 1 two-parter about infidelity and commuting, shown concurrently over two nights. As you would expect with the quality of the names involved, from the start this absorbing drama draws you into Carl (Morrissey) and Sally's (Smith) unlikely friendship, which inevitably leads into an illicit affair.
The first part is an effective double hander with Smith & Morrissey as the focal point of the story. The quality of Nicholls characterisation and his well-observed script means we know the characters within minutes. The routine of the early start, the walk to the station, the fight for the seat, 8 hours work, then do it again and home, provides a perfect backdrop. A scene we all know too well. Locations we’re all familiar with, and like the characters sleepwalking to work until Carl has a spot of seat rage with Sally, we know the pattern. By using the contrast between the other commuters normal pattern and how Sally & Carl start to deviate Nicholls draws us into the story.
By making eye contact and, God forbid, conversation on the train, we see the relationship develop. Unhappy Carl, stuck in his middle management job, suburban life, 2 kids and a wife Maggie (Colman) at home and Sally, unused to the commute and with a smothering fiancé Ryan (brilliantly realised by Sean Maguire) at home become comrades at first. Then, as their relationship is drip fed to us train journey after train journey, their friendship leads into temptation, and a train strike leads them into each other’s arms.
If episode One belonged to David Morrisey and Sheridan Smith, episode two features another star turn from Olivia Colman, as the repercussions from Carl and Sally's fling start to filter into their real life. Watching as the events unfold as a viewer I felt their nerves and got butterflies in my stomach as the moment of revelation got closer and closer. Their affair is treated as a holiday romance that ends the minute they get off the train home, and the two different lives Carl is living converge when he loses his job. Maggie, in a superb scene by Colman, discovers them both in an embrace in a London park - Carl and Sally never bothering to hide any public displays of affection.
As the angry, spurned wife Olivia Colman shines, proving why she is one of contemporary TV’s greatest actresses. Her confrontation with Sally in the hospital where Carl is after being knocked out by Sally's fiancé is a tour de force. No over the top histrionics, the tension in the air is palpable. The dialogue between Colman and Smith is perfect. Their delivery and work with each other brings the scene to life. It’s a fantastic treat to see two actresses like these at the top of their game sparring with each other.
Morrissey does hang dog and lost very well, and he portrays Carls eagerness superbly, whilst Sheridan Smith's Sally is a beautifully realised character, trying her best to pull back, but getting caught up in the romance all the same. The cinematography and direction all enhances this superb script, and whilst Sally at one point says to Carl, "I can’t see how this will end happily", can you?
There is redemption for all of them in a satisfying conclusion to the story.
From Cold Feet, to One Day, Starter for Ten and now The 7.39 Nicholls proves he is an adept master of observing and portraying human relationships. This is a fantastic piece of contemporary British Drama, and with a great script and superb ensemble cast, is an example of BBC drama at its finest.