Director Roger Golby, and writer Simon Nye, the team responsible for The Durrells in Corfu, join forces again with their former lead actress Keeley Hawes for Finding Alice, the latest offering from streaming service Acorn TV, by way of U.K. network ITV. But where The Durrells was sweet and humorous, Finding Alice is a study in black humor, pushing boundaries of taste with great gusto.
Hawes plays Alice Dillon, searching for answers after a family tragedy. But what is the series really about? Is it a meditation on grief and loss? Roughly speaking, yes. Alice, a woman whose inhibitions are so destroyed by grief she can barely let out a sentence without a generous helping of curses, fires stinging one-liners at well-meaning strangers as well as her nearest and dearest. Has she always been this way? We don't know. And is she finding herself, or does the title mean something else entirely?
Yes, the show is a family drama. But it's also an examination of corruption and dishonesty, lies, and cover-ups. Since there’s a Season 2 in the works, we’ll have to wait to see exactly what has been going on. Cheekily, a tantalizing comment is dropped minutes before the end of the last episode. It is not for the faint-hearted in its savage humor and, really, only British TV could have the chutzpah to create a series about sudden death and loss during a pandemic.
The series begins as Alice, her partner Harry Walsh (Jason Merrells), and her daughter Charlotte (a beautiful performance by Isabella Pappas) are full of excitement as they move into the house Harry has built them. It’s barely finished and the programming for the voice commands is incomplete. It’s a smart house that isn’t all that smart, with an exposed staircase just begging for trouble. Where is the refrigerator? How do you close the curtains?
Harry takes a fatal fall down the stairs that very first night. There’s CCTV footage but there’s some dithering around over how to access it, and Alice hesitates on sharing it with the police, for reasons that aren’t made clear. It turns out that there was an unknown person who came into the house that night, encountered Harry from the bottom of the stairs, and had a brief conversation with him. After a brief flirtation as a police procedural, the series establishes that Harry's fall had nothing to do with that mysterious person, but since his or her face isn’t visible, we don’t know who it is. As we accompany Alice on her exploration of the web of trouble Harry has created, that seems a minor point. She and Harry weren’t married, so she has no legal standing in accessing their assets. Harry had no will. His construction business is in trouble with his latest commercial project stalled, and his business partner Tanvi (Ayesha Dharker) is clearly up to something underhand.
Alice approaches her self-absorbed parents for help with little success. I'm delighted to report that Roger, played by Nigel Havers (Chariots of Fire) and Sarah, played by Joanna Lumley, (Absolutely Fabulous), steal just about every scene they appear in.
Harry’s parents, Gerry and Minnie, heartbroken at the loss of their son, are portrayed with a delicate balance of sensitivity and comedic timing by Kenneth Cranham (Agatha Raisin) and Gemma Jones (Gentleman Jack). They have even more bad news for Alice—to save his business, Harry gave them the house. Now, to pay the inheritance tax on the property, it must be sold.
But selling the house may not be possible, as Alice decides to bury Harry in the garden, in a rather lovely and touching funeral scene. She doesn’t quite clear it with the local authorities, but she is aided and abetted by a misfit group of new allies. She finds an odd sort of soulmate in mortuary attendant Nathan (Rhashan Stone), her “death guru.” You’ll recognize Daniel Laurie (Reggie in Call the Midwife) as Zack, one of the members of a grieving group she encounters through Nathan.
At the halfway point in the series, Harry’s death is ruled as accidental and the mystery visitor to the house has been identified as his illegitimate son George (George Webster), whom even his own mother describes as “rather shady.” DNA tests (don’t ask how Alice acquires the samples) prove that George is indeed Harry’s son, and Alice does her best to dissuade potential buyers from viewing the house with the help of a power hose.
The series changes at this point. While there’s still a lot of raw emotion, it focuses on the changing relationship between Alice and her daughter Charlotte, and the conflict created by Alice’s desire to have another baby. Yes, Harry, who didn’t plan much of anything, was thinking ahead in those terms, but he didn’t give Alice access to his samples at the fertility clinic, and things don’t seem quite right there anyway. While Alice may foresee a blissful future where her family, including Harry in the garden, stays safe at the house he built for them, she still has massive financial problems.
As complex as the series becomes, it also becomes clear that there will be no easy solutions as Alice digs deeper into increasingly Machiavellian schemes. She plays Harry’s former business partner and a realtor against each other, blackmails the local authorities for planning permission for a tract of land Harry bought that had been declared contaminated, and deals with her exasperating extended family. Various family members move in and out—her sister-in-law Nicola (Sharon Rooney, The Tunnel), whose crassness hides a wise soul, joins the household, while Charlotte, hurt and grieving, moves in with her grandmother Sarah for a while before she is able to forgive her mother.
Don’t expect answers; it’s not that sort of a show. Just lookout for the hints and questions, and enjoy.
All six episodes of Finding Alice are available on Acorn TV beginning Monday September 13.