“But you never really know someone, do you?” remarks one character in Maryland to another. “You know the stuff they choose to show you, and the stuff you choose to listen to, but the rest of it? They can just carry it around in their head.” It’s something of a mission statement for the ITV drama, laying out its big themes and ideas as plainly as possible: they’re trying to choose music for a funeral, not really sure what’s right for the moment, opting to focus on small decisions to avoid confronting the vast abyss lying between what they knew about Mary and what they didn’t.
Based on an idea from star Suranne Jones, Maryland follows sisters Becca (Jones) and Rosaline (Eve Best) in the wake of their mother’s death. They’re distant, if not outright estranged, and their initial reunion reflects that: an awkward hug, obligatory conversation, small talk about work and kids and little things like that. Their mother’s death comes out of the blue – she fell and hit her head walking on the beach, it seems – but what’s more striking is where she died. She wasn’t at home, or at least not where they thought home was, but instead on the Isle of Man.
To say that there were things their mother wasn’t telling them would be an understatement. There’s a whole side of her life – really, a whole life – they simply never knew about. In one of Maryland’s more impactful scenes, Becca and Rosaline walk around a house they now know was their mother’s home. It’s decorated with pictures of friends they’d never heard of, a community they didn’t know existed let alone that their mother was part of – more disorienting, though, are the pictures of themselves, as children through to adulthood, a sign that even as their mother was positioning them at arm’s length in one way she was keeping them close in another.
Over the course of their time on the Isle of Man, Becca and Rosaline try to work out who their mother was when they weren’t around, and in turn decipher what that might even mean anyway. They talk to new friends like Cathy (Stockard Channing, excellent here) and secret partner Pete (Hugh Quarshie, always great to see), turning over each new piece of information like a live grenade – they’re fraught, cautious interrogations, the allure of access to a deeper understanding of their mother always undercut by the danger they’ll find out something they don’t want to, unpacking something that can’t go back into its box afterwards.
Mary’s death prompts her children not just to reconsider their relationship with their mother, but with each other too. It’s this more than anything else that forms the spine of their drama, as lifelong resentments boil to the surface and their own secrets are hashed out for the first time. Jones and Best are well-cast as sisters, evoking decades of familiarity with each cutting aside and comforting gesture alike; Anna Marie O’Connor’s script offers them a lot of space to find complexity in the relationship too, though, contrasting the two sisters’ age and their own families and their health, filtered through their differing closeness with their mother. Every part of Maryland is grounded in and leads back to that central relationship, movingly realised and examined with impressive clarity by Jones, Best, and O’Connor.
Through the two sisters, Maryland is able to explain Mary too, in a roundabout sense. It’s hard to say why Mary left her life behind, at the outset of the series at least, but there are cracks at the edges of each sister’s life: a strained marriage, an all-consuming job, a worrying diagnosis, an unfulfilled restlessness, a what if that nags at the back of their minds. At times, it seems like Becca or Rosaline could find themselves making the same decision one day, and as they sift through what remains of Mary’s new life – “Who was she?” “Well, she was mum.” “But who was that?” – it becomes clear that she was someone they might understand better than they realised.
Maryland begins on ITV1 at 9pm on Monday 22 May. New episodes will continue at the same time each night thereafter, with the full series available to stream on ITVX as a boxset from Monday evening. I watched all three episodes before writing this review; you can find more of our Maryland coverage here, and more of our TV reviews here.
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