Sacked magazine journalist Tom Ronstadt (John Simm) returns to his Lancashire hometown because he has nowhere else to go. When he turns up at the family pile, Tom’s sister Nancy (Olivia Colman) fills her inattentive sibling in on what it’s like to care for their widowed, dementia-riddled father Sam (Jim Broadbent)--the tiredness; the lack of a social life; the financial ruin. Prepare yourself for a grim exploration of a grey-matter wilting disease, with some unbearably sad, beautifully acted two-handers featuring Tom and his sometimes lucid though more often violent or confused dad. But central to Exile (BBC2, Sunday, 9pm), and the source of its most heart-thudding flashes, is the son’s struggle to uncover a ferociously guarded secret from his pop’s past.
The psychological thriller airs in three parts on consecutive days. The first pumps out so much intrigue, you’ll be angry that you have to wait for the next two episodes. Do at least try to console yourself with the knowledge that those kind BBC1 schedulers opted to spread the instalments over three days rather than weeks. Anyhow, because Tom can’t straight up ask his ex-journalist father what he’s hiding (actually, he can and he does but the disease means he gets nowhere) he has to scrabble about for clues and glue them together. After one episode, there are far more holes than puzzle pieces.
Supporting the lead story is a subplot that will chime with anyone who’s had to move back in with their parents as an adult. For Tom, it’s a last-ditch measure. Once reinstalled Up North, he’s is drawn to his history but also repelled by it. The friends who never left Lancashire see him as a London hotshot who leads an intriguingly glamorous life. So while he only ever meant to dip a quiet toe into his past, he accidentally manages to make a gigantic splash.
Simm has the pallid complexion and modest good looks required to play a partied out, once-revered hack while Broadbent, with his soggy sad eyes and silky neck waddle, is perfectly suited to portraying an elderly Alzheimer’s sufferer. In the middle there’s Peep Show’s Olivia Colman, who straddles downtrodden and pretty, and looks thoroughly comfortable playing the long-suffering sister. A scorching cast is made better still by Shameless scribe Danny Brocklehurst’s words. He’ll knock you sideways with misery then pick you up with a sly quip or a clever twist.