Kay Mellor (Playing the Field, Fat Friends) returned to our screens this week with In the Club, BBC One’s new comedy drama about a group of pregnant women from various walks of life whose lives intersect at a Parent Craft class the women attend.
Whilst juggling their pregnancies, the women’s outside lives provide even more drama. Female-centric ensemble drama is no surprise from Mellor; however, this production is a great group piece that involves the men as well as the women involved, peppered with Mellor’s trademark wit and earthy humour.
Mellor’s excellent writing aside, a major part of why the show works is the brilliant casting and the chemistry between the leads, all explored to varying degrees in this first episode.
Spooks star Hermione Norris as Roanna is brilliant, coping with the later-in-life struggles of divorcing while pregnant and continuing her relationship with her younger lover, Simon (Luke Thompson). Lesbian life partners Kim and Susie (Katherine Parkinson and Tara Fitzgerald) share a complicated history with their children’s surrogate father Neil (Jonathan Kerrigan), who impregnated Susie eleven years before, and has now impregnated Kim. It’s further complicated by the fact that Kim and Neil now seem to be secretly romantically linked to one another.
Smaller roles from Christine Bottomley (Early Doors), Sacha Dhawan (The History Boys) and Taj Atwal (Stella) are highlighted here, but will no doubt be developed further in the coming episodes.
The focus of the first episode is very much around the Manning family, headed by expectant mother Diane (Jill Halfpenny) and Rick (Will Mellor), whose story relates to their severe financial problems following Rick’s redundancy five months previously and being unable to tell his wife the truth, leading to.
Halfpenny is fantastic here, portraying Diane with an engaging sincerity, confusion and anger as events progress. Two Pints… actor Mellor is a surprise stand out who, despite being best known for his comedy work, puts in a touching and nuanced performance as conflicted dad Rick. The extreme events that lead him to commit TV’s least thought-through bank robbery in this episode will clearly have a snowball effect on the characters here, especially Diane, who has just found out she is having twins.
Another highlight of the episode is the sad, subtle and often comic performance put in by young actress Hannah Midgely as teen mum Rosie. Having lost her mother to cancer the year before, the idea of a young girl becoming a mother without a mother of her own is another engaging hook, especially with what happens to Rosie’s father in the episode’s final moments.
Despite the drama, which is portrayed with a subtle realness by all concerned, comedy is key to the episode. The never-ending list of things you cannot do while pregnant, the comical rundown of pregnancy symptoms and the worry of doing a number two while in labour all add a relatable humour which is necessary to offset some of the more heightened dramatic moments.
It’s also welcome to see the male supporting cast getting a chance to shine here, as female-led shows such as this can often leave this viewpoint undeveloped. The worry over pregnancy sex denting the baby or whether women having twins experience two labours are interesting, if slightly uneducated ideas, but probably reflect most men’s awareness of pregnancy.
This opening instalment nicely sets up the many elements that will no doubt be further developed and intertwined over the remaining five episodes.
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 5 August 2014 on BBC One.
What did you think of the episode? Let us know below…