Note: I couldn't decide if I wanted to do a spoiler-free review, or a spoiled-full, fan-girl screen-cap and clip squee, so I decided to do both. So, this is the fairly spoiler-free review. The squee-fest will follow.
I just recently finished watching and reviewing David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, and Recovery, and I’ve just watched Single Father for the second time. Now I sit down to write this review, and what I want to say all seems vaguely familiar. Blah, blah, blah, gripping; blah, blah, blah, amazing acting; blah, blah, blah, intensity; blah, blah, blah, his eyes. I swear to you: I am totally capable of enjoying an actor and still being critical of a piece of work he’s been in. (Although, true, “enjoy” is too tepid a word for my DT obsession…) Just you wait – I’ll review him as the Virgin Mary in the nativity panto on Christian O’Donnell’s show, and then you’ll see! I’ll be brutal! [shakes fist]
What I’m learning about David Tennant is that his genius lies in the way he inhabits a role so completely; he slides into the character as easily as he slips on a floral shirt and orange pants, er, trousers. You can never “catch” him acting. Instead, he simply becomes. And look at his range: Put “Alan” in “Recovery” next to Ten in DW, and then tell me this guy doesn’t have some serious acting chops.
Here’s a synopsis of “Single Father” from the DVD cover:
“Dave’s a family man; a photographer who adores his wife, Rita, and is an active dad to his three kids and his teenage stepdaughter, Lucy. But when Rita suddenly dies, a grief-stricken Dave faces the daunting prospect of bringing up the children on his own.
“To make matters worse, Dave uncovers secrets about Rita’s life that lead him to question if he ever really know her. Dave feels increasingly overwhelmed and his only support seems to come from Rita’s devastated best friend Sarah, but in the midst of their shared grief, events take a turn that neither Dave nor Sarah could ever have predicted.
The family here is a complex modern family. David and Rita, who we learn about half-way through were never married, have three children together. Rita has a teenager from before she knew Dave, and Dave has a grown daughter from a previous marriage. The family is noisy and chaotic.
There are no perfect characters. The kids yell at each other, but not in the Hollywood way of one-liners and zingers and don’t-they-have-attitude-oh-yeah, but like real kids do. They can be cruel, hurting each other both physically and mentally, but they also are good kids and love each other. Lucy, the teenager, is just as selfish and moody and broody as any teen would be, especially one in this situation. I love her scenes with her dad, when he’s trying so hard to be supportive and she cuts him no slack. Yet she’s in no way unlikable. You can really feel for what she’s going through. These young actors are really marvelous.
Dave is a mensch, but he’s not perfect. Scenes where he’s being dad-of-the-year to Lucy stand in stark contrast to his behavior towards Tanya, his daughter from his first marriage. He’s brusque, harsh, and even cold to her. The assumption is that he’s allowed his hostility toward his first wife (which is never shown but can be surmised) to bleed over into his feelings for Tanya – which is not OK.
And Sarah, while sympathetic, reveals something at the end that I find quite objectionable. Luckily for her, David forgives her immediately.
The supporting characters – Matt (Sarah’s boyfriend), Anna and Robin (Rita’s sister and her husband) are well, if sketchily, portrayed. Anna, played by Neve McIntosh, is fantastic as a sharp, fast-talking woman who knows better than anyone else what needs doing and isn’t shy about expressing it.
Although this is occasionally predictable – any guesses what that “turn” that events take with Dave and his dead wife’s best friend? – more often, the plot twists surprised me. The music can be a bit heavy-handed at times, although I didn’t mind. I have a few script nit-picks that I’ll discuss in the spoiler-heavy clip-fest, but whatever plot stumbles there may be, the emotional impact is strong and honestly achieved. Even if this weren’t such a great place to see Tennant play an ordinary guy that you could imagine knocking on your door for a cup of sugar (a girl can dream, can’t she?), I’d recommend this mini-series as an emotionally-gripping tale that never insults the viewer.