Been watching the fabulous Olive Kitteridge on TV this weekend, in two large lumps. I thought it was unbelelievably well done, beautifully crafted and beautifully paced; television for grown-ups. I haven’t read the books that it is based upon but Good Reads and Amazon seem to rate them highly. It’s an exploration of the human condition as one grows older, set in the US state of Maine in the seventies, and then over the next twenty years or so, so it is right up my street. Olive is a flinty, difficult woman married to Henry a passive and slightly bland man who owns and manages the town pharmacy. They have one son. Her principle attribute is that she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. At one point she is accused of being depressed and she says, ‘I accept that; it comes with being smart.’ She is an outsider.
Bittersweet I suppose, and that is the phrase a lot of the reviewers adopt. The husband character, Henry as I said a second ago, seems bland and easy-going but I thought Olive had simply worn him down with her harsh judgements and unbending unwillingness to compromise, to the extent that he now has an interior life that she is excluded from and can never penetrate. How nuanced and subtle an emotion that is to write. It overflows with such quality.
But it is compassionate
What I loved however was the lack of contrivance. We are also watching Danish TV drama The Legacy and that is beautifully acted and scripted [and compassionate] but very contrived, to the extent that I am beginning to feel manipulated by the writers. Olive is so much not that, the narrative simply unfolds. No big dramas or unexpected twists, it just slowly moves forward. When she meets her new daughter-in-law we expect fireworks but she turns out to be quiet and peaceful and non-confrontational and beats Olive into submission by, well . . . being nice. No big dramas or unexpected twists, it just slowly moves forward. Did I say that? Well, I am saying it again.