Marchlands episode 5 review: series finale

ITV’s ghostly drama Marchlands comes to an end, and it’s keen to wrap as much of its story up as possible…

This review contains spoilers.

Marchlands has, in hindsight, been a tidy little series. Limiting itself to five episodes to tell its story, the show hasn’t been massively ambitious in terms of pointing the way forward for television drama, but it’s nonetheless proven the value in telling a good story perfectly well. And this final episode had a couple of tricks up its sleeve, some of which were signposted, some weren’t.

As things kicked off, the definite theme was that people wanted out. Ruth, and particularly, Paul were keen to move, while in the 80s, Eddie and Helen were having a similar conversation. Theirs, of course, was coincidentally overheard by daughter, Amy, specifically the bit where Helen basically accused her of being delusional. All the while, of course, their son Scott was being ignored. That was until Helen finally saw ghostly Alice herself, courtesy of a not-as-effective-as-it-should-have-been hand against a washing machine moment, and Scott nearly drowning in the bath.

The clues to the pleasant nature of Alice The Ghost were finalised there, as she basically saved Scott from drowning. And her presence in Marchlands, as most of us suspected, wasn’t down to any kind of malevolent grudge. Instead, it was ultimately to help her mum, Ruth, know the truth about her death. And that death ultimately involved Olive. Who, coincidentally, is one of the reasons a wedge is forming between Nisha and Mark.

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All of this fell together quite nicely, trundling the episode towards its revelations with some skill. Again, some of the dumbing down that’s soured the show a little shone through. We had the music giving us clues again, and at one stage, a clue was written down and deciphered in big enough letters on a piece of paper to hand over to the next person. Subtlety hasn’t always been Marchlands‘ strength.

Instead, it’s the three interwoven stories that have seen it at its finest, not least when they intersect. Take the character of Scott, whose presence in the shop in the present day gives a small but crucial crossover link to the 1980s. Or the gradual way that Olive wove herself into the story. I like, too, that even the lesser used main characters, Tessa Peake Jones’ Evelyn, particularly, had prominent moments, well delivered.

In fact, if any bit of the show never quite gelled as I thought it might, it was the ghost story. The unifying presence of Alice was important, but ultimately, about the most unmemorable thing about Marchlands. Sure, she generated one or two horror movie textbook jumps, but she never raised as much tension as the music seemed to hope she would. Perhaps her lack of a real axe to grind was behind that?

As it turned out, the clue to the demise of Alice was a bit clumsy, too. We’ve had this word appear, Askor, and as it turned out, it meant Ask Olive Runcie. Did I miss something? Is there any reason she couldn’t just have written Olive, which is the same number of letters? Or would that be too easy?

Olive, then, was with Alice just before she died. Her mother was having an affair with Robert, Ruth’s dad, and this led to a series of circumstances that saw Alice run into the woods, ultimately to her demise. It wasn’t a gigantic twist, but it worked better because it was a manageable one. And it gave us a strong moment where the undercurrents of Evelyn and Robert’s life are brought to the fore.

Credit, too, for the handling of the character of Ruth, both in the 60s and the present day. She topped and tailed the story, and while surely nobody watching had even the slightest belief that she would do harm to the new Alice in the present day thread (an odd moment to build up, given that there was nothing we’d seen in the character of Ruth to suggest that she would hurt her), the character was clearly pivotal.

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Everything worked out quite settled in the end, including happiness for Helen and Eddie (I’ve really enjoyed the pairing of Dean Andrews and Alex Kingston there), and Marchlands reached a firm conclusion, before scuttling off to the DVD market.

And it’s been a good, solid show. It felt just the right length at five episodes, and while a little more courage in its execution, and belief in its audience, would have served it well, it’s proven to be a solid drama and a welcome respite from the detectives and legal professionals that seem to dominate ITV drama. More like this, please.

Read our review of episode 4 here.

See all the Marchlands reviews here.

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