Waves surge, flickering on a black backdrop as Fiona Apple sings: “I was screaming, into the canyon, at the moment, of my death”. It’s a suitably brooding title sequence to The Affair, Sky Atlantic’s recent import from Showtime, starring English actors Dominic West (best known as Jimmy McNulty in The Wire) and Ruth Wilson. It follows the rocky romances between Noah Solloway (West), his paramour Alison Lockhart (Wilson) and their spouses, all tied together by a (possibly connected,) murder.
The story is told by the two protagonists as they are interrogated by a policeman for a murder in Montauk – the details of which are teasingly drip-fed to the audience. First in each episode (or most episodes,) you are told ‘Noah’s story’, then ‘Alison’s story’, which makes for a fascinating character study of the nuances of seduction; how the same event can be remembered so differently by both parties. Instead of bashing you over the head with the message, it gives enough space for the viewer to ruminate on the motives and morality of the characters’ actions – and how that might affect the crime being investigated (which is still unresolved, with a second season coming). Among the many, many arguments, most have no obvious winner. This is life and love not in black and white, but in all its shades of grey (emotionally speaking, not sexually a la Christian Grey – though the sex scenes are fairly steamy).
Dominic West performs the role with so much skill you have to have some sympathy for Noah.
Alison and her husband Cole still, a few years on, have the lingering loss of their only child Gabriel hanging over their marriage, (particularly because Alison is grappling with the guilt of not taking him to the doctors before he died of secondary drowning aged four). And Noah is looking for the life he thinks he missed out on by marrying early- the idealistic, freewheeling vision he has of the life of a writer. In other hands, Noah’s role could smack of ‘mid-life crisis’ or ‘sleazy fling’, but Dominic West performs the role with so much skill you have to have some sympathy for Noah, despite months of living a lie.
Just as important to the show is the setting, its close-knit, everyone-knows-everyone feel is integral to the plot, and the Atlantic sea of course offers much scope for attractive visual metaphor. It is portrayed as a place wrestling with the twin identities of down-to-earth, gossipy, fishing community and wealthy playground for the rich holiday-makers.
So get in on The Affair. That is, unless you’re in an unstable marriage – in which case, it’s so compelling and comprehensive in its examination of marriage breakdown, it could tip you over the edge…
By Joel Durston