A whisper-quiet wartime drama set in the middle of nowhere in Northern Ireland in 1943, My Mother and Other Strangers (BBC One) was always going to struggle to be noticed in the wake of bodice-ripping Sunday night behemoth Poldark.
But over the past four weeks, this tale of a displaced Englishwoman, Rose Coyne, who experiences undreamed-of levels of passion in her casual encounters with an American liaison officer from a newly built US airforce base, has been working up a powerful head of romantic steam. No other recent drama has captured quite so keenly a sense of the complex, hidden, unspoken desires that can roil away beneath even the quietest surface.
Hattie Morahan is superb in the role of Rose, lit from within as the sensitive, educated, deeply loyal wife and mother of three, who can barely admit to herself the heady intensity that her brief, workaday conversations with Captain Ronald Dreyfus (Mad Men’s Aaron Staton) arouse in her.
In the second episode, a visit from her glamorous, troubled sister Vera (Fiona Button) – a vision of scarlet against the unrelenting greyness of Moybeg – was a sharp reminder of the sophisticated world Rose left behind to marry her dull-but-decent publican husband Michael (Owen McDonnell). Vera’s shared attraction to Dreyfus provided an opportunity to bring Rose’s own desires (and a slew of literary allusions from Wuthering Heights to The Lady of Shalott) to the surface, and there was surprising emotional heft to the dialogue in the confessional scenes that followed.
All the high-flown sentiment contrasted harshly with the mundanity of the rural setting. Barry Devlin’s script widens the focus out from Rose and into the wider community by being viewed, retrospectively, through the eyes of her young son Francis (Michael Nevin). This, along with the episodic nature of the storytelling, doesn’t always make for subtlety. Too often we’re led down the road towards a Ballykissangel-style vision of Ireland as a land of twinkle-eyed rogues and chancers. And there’s a far too obvious appeal to Call the Midwife fans in Ciaran Hinds’s mellifluous voiceover) that brackets each episode with reflective wisdom.
But the central spine of the series, the clamped-down, impossible romance between Rose and Dreyfus, is beautifully handled. In next week’s conclusion we’re promised that all this slow-burn passion will come to full, even disastrous, fruition. At this stage, it’s still hard to imagine how, but I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.