After the success of ‘One Day’, there was inevitably a lot of hype around David Nicholls’ new BBC Drama, ‘7.39’. The program, aired last Monday and Tuesday on BBC 1, charts the relationship of two commuters who fall in love.
The concept is straight-forward and rather familiar after ‘One Day’, which follows the characters on the same day each year. In ‘7.39’, we see Sally [Sheridan Smith] and Carl [David Morrissey] meet on their morning train each day and gradually kindle a friendship. Both trapped by mundane routines and lust-less relationships, feeling like they are missing out on something; they believe their lives should mean more than they do. As they get to know each other every morning, and eventually arrange to get the same train home together in the evenings, Sally and Carl start to see their new, and initially innocent, friendship as something more.
The program was aired in two parts, each an hour long. The first episode shows their initial meeting, as the protagonists argue over a seat on the 7.39 train. Sally is engaged to the uninspiring, fitness-obsessed Mark, and Carl is trapped in an ‘average’ yet unproblematic marriage, full of TV dinners and discussions about his gloomy teenage son. By the end of the first episode, the programme’s charm and gentle comedy begins to emerge, and their affair is waiting to happen. After finding themselves spending the night together at a hotel, the sexual tension (or whatever you want to call it) between the two of them finally comes out into the open.
In the second episode, the situation spirals out of control. The audience is left to question whether or not the affair, this intended ‘one night’ of consummated desire, is worth the trouble it causes. Inevitably, the secret comes out, and things cannot remain as they were before. After the tragic ending of ‘One Day’, we are left on the edge of our seats, expecting Nicholls to dramatically kill off one of the characters in order to neatly conclude his story. However, the ending is well executed, not entirely unexpected yet neither the depressing conclusion possible in a novel nor the ‘happy ending’ expected in a romantic comedy.
Smith and Morrissey fulfil their roles expertly throughout. The dialogue is understated, and their familiar tones capture the truthfulness of the lines. Smith effortlessly conveys the confusion of a woman who is not unhappy,but doubts whether marrying the man she loves is the right decision if the thought of spending their lives together no longer excites her. Morrissey similarly captures the essence of his character perfectly and, in spite of Carl’s many faults, he somehow manages to make us sympathise with the poor man. We urge Carl to do the right thing, to avoid making a stupid mistake; yet, when things go wrong, we can’t help but pity him and his tragic fate.
Morrissey may not be the hunky heart-throb we would expect if the drama were a proper film; the man many women fantasise about falling in love with after a chance encounter. However, the program itself constantly reminds us that it is not a Hollywood romance, but an easily recognisable situation. As Carl says to his wife towards the end of the show, if he had taken another train that day, or sat in another seat, he would never have met Sally and the relationship would never have happened. There may be something uncomfortably average and uninspiring about the drama, but this comes from its very plausibility. Everything about the it captures the ‘realism’ of the situation: the repetitive 9-5 routine, the busy commute, Carl’s eventual unemployment.
Overall, the program is definitely worth watching. It may not be exhilarating, romantic, and fast-paced, but it captures the essence of life in the modern world. The whole story relies on one chance meeting, leaving us wondering how quickly our own lives could change and how uncertain our fate is.