12 Days of Lesley Manville – 9: I Am Maria

The improvisational manner of I Am Maria suits Lesley Manville’s extraordinary skillset down to the ground

“It’s your birthday, of course you can’t skip that bit”

Part of Dominic Savage’s female-led anthology series I Am… (which I really need to get around to watching all of), I Am Maria was created by Savage in partnership with Lesley Manville as part of the model of collaborating with each lead performer. As a Mike Leigh regular, Manville is no stranger to this improvisational approach and it shows in this blistering 45 minute drama.

Maria has been dutifully married to John for 31 years but as her 60th birthday fast approaches, she can’t help but reflect on a life not lived. As younger work colleagues chat about exciting weekend plans and her children share news of huge life choices, her ability to predict exactly what her birthday has in store for her can’t help but depress her and as she finally acknowledges that, the dam threatens to break.

This kind of character is entirely in her wheelhouse, and the story may not be particularly far-reaching, but it is Manville’s gift to be able to spin gold out of such material. Every year of suppressed feeling and ambition comes rushing to her face over the episode, the realisation that Michael Gould’s John will never be more than dull and dependable even as she begs for spontaneity, whether in spaghetti or sex.

It helps when temptation is as appealing as Gershwyn Eustache Jnr’s workmate Anthony but even there, Manville shows us it is something much deeper that is being fulfilled within her, a realisation that this midlife crisis is just that – mid-life – and there’s so much more that can yet be written in her story. Whether that happens or not is deliberately left ambiguous in the ghost of a final wry smile – a tour-de-force from Manville.

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