The cast and premise are squandered in a drama that never really finds its groove
The promotional material and trailers for the BBC Northern Ireland produced drama From There To Here seem to dare its audience to dream. A strong aesthetic, some classy pop tunes from a bygone era, and a great cast that reunites Life On Mars alumni Philip Glenister and Liz White are tantalising enough in themselves. But the concept holds strong possibilities: Manchester, June 1996. The setting of Euro '96 and the city centre bombing. An opportunity to merge tragedy with triumph, contrasting the best and worst of a "Summer Of Love" that in reality was anything but.
When From There To Here begins, Glenister’s Daniel and White's Joanne are as far apart as you can imagine. A sweet factory owner who lives with his wife (Saskia Reeves) and grown-up children (Morven Christie and Daniel Rigby); a single mother struggling to make ends meet as a cleaner. Stability and instability on two sides of a coin, soon to be united by a literal spark – sparks, in this case, resulting from the bomb blast, which Daniel's father Samuel (the great Bernard Hill) and brother Robbo (Steven Mackintosh) also find themselves caught up in. Football's coming home, Robbo’s gambling addiction escalates, Samuel's injured, but doesn't want to stop working, and Daniel and Joanne begin to hang out together.
It all promises to be more than a little messy. And messy is the best word for a drama that never really finds a groove. The cast and premise are squandered. What stands out in From There To Here is not the essence of Euro '96, the Manchester bombing and how they affected the lives of the people back then, but a will-they-or-won't-they affair that viewers should not be encouraged to celebrate. Glenister and White's obvious chemistry doesn't make it any easier.
Then again, couldn't that be the point? That Daniel's flirtation with Joanne, along with celebrating England’s "success" in Euro '96, is simply wrong? For despite their numerous advantages, the national team ultimately won nothing, and Daniel, who seemingly has everything going for him (a loving family, a successful business), is on the verge of finding himself empty handed. As is Robbo, who may well lose everything from both gambling and shady underworld dealings. Some might say (no pun intended) that From There To Here is successfully unveiling the dark side of lad culture and this particular "Cool Britannia" before our very eyes.
Except very nearly everything in From There To Here comes across as confused, poorly thought through and almost, I'm sorry to say, heartless. Both the pop tunes and Euro '96 footage (regretfully minus Barry Davies' original commentary) are poorly incorporated, existing only as nostalgia fuel. It is as if they have been tacked on to capitalise on growing World Cup interest. A horrid streak of misogyny runs through the production too, with the women either being sidelined, servile, objects of affection for men going through midlife crises, or even all three. Without the sterling work of the undervalued White, Joanne would be a construct, not a character.
Frankly, From There To Here doesn't know if it should celebrate the time period or condemn it. You are left with something that tries to have it four ways – family drama, love story, nostalgia piece, tragedy – and ends up having it no ways. Here's hoping these problems are ironed out by Episode Two.
Episode Two of From There To Here, a three-part serial, airs on BBC One NI at 9 pm on May 29. Catch up with Episode One on BBC iPlayer.