‘Black Mirror’: ‘Be Right Back’ spoiler-free review

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Charlie Brooker is back with his bleak “sci-fi dystopia” anthology series Black Mirror and the themes are as harrowing, affecting and as bitingly relevant as before.

‘Be Right Back’ – the first in this new collection, recently screened at a special preview event at the BFI in London – follows the events of a young couple, Martha (played by Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), as they move to an isolated family cottage (where Ash’s parents lived) to begin a new life. Ash is as remote as their new home as he is constantly engaging in the virtual world of social media, never taking his eyes off the phone despite events in the real world and his partner.

Very quickly their life together is cut short when Ash is killed and it’s at his funeral where the story kicks in. A friend of Martha’s suggests a new service that recreates lost loved ones by utilising their digital footprint; this allows a grieving partner to communicate with the deceased through texts and even phone conversations (by analysing their online behaviour over the years).

The final phase of the process is even more disarming and it’s where the science-fiction notion of the story comes into play – Ash is re-created in physical form. Initially, Martha enjoys the virtual and then real contact but problems begin to arise.

Though, on the surface, this story is about grief, it’s really about the death of a relationship and the lengths people go to to keep the fires of a past love burning; the reading and re-reading of old texts, the constant inability to let go and move on. It’s a harrowing watch but all the more so due to its relevance – the idea that someone is held onto in this fashion doesn’t seem so unlikely.

As explored before in Black Mirror, it says much about the state of modern relationships and just how difficult it is for people to connect in reality, relying on the internet to be that crutch for emotional sustenance.

‘Be Right Back’ definitely has shades of Vanilla Sky and Artificial Intelligence, the exploration of lost love in the former and the uncanny in the latter. Gleeson’s portrayal of real-life Ash is likeable, despite his social-media fixation, and his “post-life” performance evokes the aforementioned Spielberg film, full of awkward humour and eerie silences.

Atwell, recently seen in BBC One’s Restless, is hugely sympathetic in the role and she plays the journey from grief to gratification to life-changing realisation superbly. It’s a performance that will touch deeply.

Despite no love-making with pigs, Black Mirror doesn’t need such porcine hyperbole to tell such engaging stories. Brooker has penned a science-fiction love tale that feels all too real. In fact, it simply feels like a bleak drama (granted, with a number of humorous moments).

The message, for some, may be ambiguous but it certainly points an accusing finger at human emotional frailty and the need to satiate one’s soul.

Airs at 10pm on Monday 11 February 2013 on Channel 4.

> Buy Series 1 on DVD on Amazon.

Are you looking forward to Series 2? Let us know below…