Brief Encounters: Episode 1

As an intrinsically uptight nation, British people are known to wince at even the mention of the word ‘knickers’. So when you consider the effect that a brand like Ann Summers might’ve had on the Brits of 1982, it’s hard to believe that ‘parties’ to advertise sex toys and lingerie were beginning to take off. Attitudes towards sex were conservative and few people would have the audacity to discuss their favourite pleasures around the table of a dinner party. That’s why ITV’s new comedy-drama Brief Encounters from writers Fay Rusling and Oriane Messina is just so entertaining.

The story begins when local cleaner Steph (Sophie Rundle) spots an advert in the paper asking for women to host parties to promote Ann Summers’ exotic lingerie. Interested, Steph informs her friend Nita (Angela Griffin) who is equally intrigued by the possibility of earning money simply by hosting parties. The pair know it’ll be a struggle when Steph’s husband Terry (Karl Davies) actively opposes the proposal, but since he’s just lost his job and money is tight, the pair decide to go against his warnings and proceed with the party. Steph persuades her employer Pauline (Penelope Wilton) to host the party who invites many of her reserved friends and chaos naturally ensues.

Both Sophie Rundle and Karl Davies are actors I’d seen in other dramas and had immediately wondered why they hadn’t had more prominent roles. In Brief Encounters, their relationship is one of the crucial storylines. Rundle was fantastic in both Peaky Blinders and Happy Valley, but in Brief Encounters, her talent is truly realised. Her character navigates the storyline and is the one that viewers will sympathise with the most, especially with the revelation at the end of the first episode.

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Penelope Wilton is also brilliant as Pauline. She’s a lonely housewife who is keen to explore new ideas or, as she puts it, the “sexual awakening”. At the party, she experiences an epiphany: that sex should not be such a taboo subject. In kicking out cynical guests, she takes on this new philosophy and it’s a joy to watch her character develop.

Sharon Rooney plays Dawn, an effervescent hairdresser and keen advocate of the ‘sexual awakening’. Her character is, as always, fun to watch and many of the funniest moments come from her interactions with Pauline; one particularly hilarious moment is when Dawn contentedly tucks into a bowl of potpourri assuming they are crisps before being told they are not by Wilton’s character.

On a Monday evening, it’s good to have a drama that isn’t too heavy to watch, and Brief Encounters fits the bill perfectly. It’s witty, sincere and incredibly entertaining whilst still giving viewers the intrigue that comes with a good drama. I can’t wait for episode two.

Brief Encounters continues next Monday (11/07/16) at 9pm.