TV Review: The Affair, Sky Atlantic

“Why don’t you tell me how it began”

A belated UK premiere for this Golden Globe-winning drama over on Sky Atlantic and a much-welcomed one at that, as this is a cracking piece of television. I caught up with The Affair, created by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, during my New York trip at New Year, its 10 episodes getting me through a day off sick and the downtime in my hotel, and starring Ruth Wilson as it does, it provided a serendipitous counterpart to her stellar turn in Constellations (more of which anon).

The basic premise of the show is the affair between schoolteacher and struggling novelist Noah (Dominic West) and grieving waitress Alison (Wilson) during his family’s summer holiday in the Long Island resort town where she lives and works. As we see, the effects ripple out well into their extended families but the hook is that each episode is divided in two – each protagonist giving their version of the same events, giving their own different perspective on what actually happened.

And not only that, their accounts are being given from some unspecified point in the future to an investigating detective, adding in a further layer of complexity to the stories being told as clues and details come in thick and fast from both past and present, slowly unpeeling the mysteries at the heart of the story. The he said/she said nature is very well done, right down to him remembering her with luscious tumbling locks and full make-up on their first meeting and her recalling a scraped back ponytail and a face au naturel.

The casting is inspired too, even if it’s a little odd to see Wilson and West leading a US TV show, as West shows us the conflicts of a man constantly struggling with the fact he’s married into a much wealthier family and Wilson revealing layer after layer of a woman traumatised by the loss of her young son. As they find their bearings in an illicit liaison – and the sex in here is pretty steamy, full-on and plentiful – their contrasting stories about the progression of their relationship is pitched perfectly.

As the cuckolded spouses, the casting again is quite canny, with Abby Lockhart from ER and Pacey Witter himself from Dawson’s Creek playing against type. Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson have of course played many other roles since but they are engraved in my mind as those characters, so it’s fun to see Tierney as an emotionally distant wealthy New Yorker and Jackson as a slightly brutish rancher and the way in which these characters progress is fascinating to witness.

I won’t say too much more for fear of spoiling UK viewers but episode 9 is where Wilson delivers some of the finest acting of her career and coming so close to seeing her effortlessly break hearts in in the similarly shifting stories of Constellations, there is no doubting that she really is one of the premiere actors of hers and any generation. Plus the theme tune is a previously unreleased song by Fiona Apple which lends itself to a striking title sequence – everyone’s a winner!

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