Together review: BBC 2 James McAvoy drama is a claustrophobic, invasive reflection on lockdown - that leaves the viewer exhausted

Together succeeds in reflecting the anger and shame of losing loved ones during the pandemic - but it’s too much, too soon

The 90-minute film, directed by Stephen Daldry (The Reader, Billy Elliot) was filmed in just ten days. Set in just one room, it's claustrophobic, at times harrowing and reflective, but both the drawn-out pandemic heart-to-hearts and the couple’s toxic relationship feel contrived.

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The dramady focuses on the rocky relationship between ‘She’ (Sharon Horgan) and ‘He’ (James McAvoy) during the first coronavirus lockdown to present day.

Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy in Together (C) Arty Films Ltd - Photographer: Peter Mountain
Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy in Together (C) Arty Films Ltd - Photographer: Peter Mountain

Both are battling their professional struggles during the pandemic.‘He’ runs a boutique computing consultancy, but because of the pandemic, has been forced to furlough his staff and has taken up growing vegetables as a hobby.

‘She’ is a co-coordinator for Europe at a refugee charity, kept busy by the unprecedented scale of the crisis that is unfolding.

However, Together steers away from their professional anxieties and instead focuses on their relationship. We witness them re-evaluate why they got together, the rebirth of their clearly deceased sexlife, and questions of “what next?” once this has all blown over.

The film is successful in creating a claustrophobic atmosphere by bringing a stage experience into our homes, in the form of a two-handed play.

Sharon Horgan in Together (C) Arty Films Ltd - Photographer: Peter Mountain

The characters break the fourth wall from start to finish, so much so, that by the end of the film it’s easy to get confused about whether you were an innocent observer of their toxicity, or if your presence in the room helped fuel their hatred.

However, at times, it’s a deeply uncomfortable watch.

The ill-timed finishing of sentences, the snobbery of the characters' opinions, the sheer ignorance of their remarks (‘This is the reason you’re stuck in this sh***y job and I’ve got an E-Class Benz waiting outside for me’’ ‘He’ remarks to an innocent shop worker), and the repetitive ‘we used to be in love’ narrative creates a dynamic that made me cringe rather than cry.

Coupled with expansive monologues about the care home crisis, the death of a mother, and who the real heroes are, it felt the creators were cashing in on the tropes associated with the hellish lockdown. Unnecessary and un-funny riffs about the characters' sexlife, creates an emotional see-saw that’s jarring and imbalanced.

Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy in Together (C) Arty Films Ltd - Photographer: Peter Mountain

Becoming less thought-provoking, and more invasive as it goes on, the film revisits the struggles of lockdown, but tackles too much at once. Instead of giving the viewer time to think for themselves about the inexcusable social care crisis, it compresses another three coronavirus after-effects into its runtime - all while trying to make us laugh at jokes about orgasms.

The show does well at portraying the lockdown conversations that for some were so uncomfortable to address at the time (such as ‘Who should get the vaccine first? And ‘Will key workers be praised once this is all over?’).

However, for those who have pandemic-fatigue - or who just feel turned off by the repeated Covid death toll numbers flashing up on the screen - it may be a little too close to the bone, especially considering the situation is still ongoing.

This month we witnessed Bo Burnham (Inside) point the camera on himself in a deeply engrossing movie about one man’s self reflection during the lockdown world. It felt controlled and appropriate because we witnessed his downfall, joy and stark psychological contemplations with his permission.

Burnham left space for the viewer to breathe and reflect upon their own experiences of lockdown. But Together was intense and direct, leaving the viewer exhausted rather than contemplative.

While it will become easier with time and distance to reflect on the heartache of the Covid pandemic for artistic merit, perhaps it’s too soon for something as stark and intrusive as Together.