How did you spend your (first few) lockdowns? Be thankful you didn’t have a film crew or, worse, a live theatre audience sharing it with you. Theatre and TV have an uneasy a relationship, like the lead characters in this collaboration between the National Theatre and Sky Arts: a Black father (Giles Terera, excellent) and the white, working-class brother (Giles Maskell, likewise) of his partner. As so often in these cases, the play is better: see War Horse, London Road, Angels in America. Face to Face is the concluding instalment in a trilogy which began on stage at the National, with searing writing from Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, taking a forensic look our love-hate race relations, here in the close confines of a London flat in lockdown. But unlike the first two, this episode was made solely for television.
And some of it may frighten the horses for those who like their TV drama served with no surprises. Slow-mo, heightened audio, as if Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) were filming EastEnders; whipped flashbacks, and the actors ‘breaking the fourth wall’ (darling): addressing us / the camera directly. But there’s no denying the quality of the treatment or the importance of the subject. Writing rarely scales these heights in TV drama. “Male friendship is not a fashionable subject on stage or screen these days”, says Claire Allfree in the Telegraph. “Death of England triumphantly reclaims the subject by parsing seismic social conflicts through a highly particularised masculine intimacy – and [is] beautifully articulated.”
The i’s Gwendolyn Smith calls it “dazzling”. “Back and forth they go, in tiny bursts and towering speeches, shifting endlessly and seamlessly between jokes and meltdowns, enduring friendship and fragile bonds, tension and tenderness, writes The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan, dishing out a full five stars. “It is a profoundly impressive, deeply moving achievement and makes you think that England might be saved – might even be worth saving – yet.”
First shown November 2021.