Talking Heads: A Lady of Letters Review
by H. Thomas
‘This episode of Talking Heads is absolutely fantastically written and played, and instantly draws the audience in, making them want to watch the rest of the series as soon as it has finished.’
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Cast: Imelda Staunton
In the first episode of this 2020 adaptation of Alan Bennett’s collection of monologues, Imelda Staunton plays Irene Ruddock, an elderly lady who seems to live a lonely life. We hear the entire story from her perspective and retelling. She occupies her time by writing letters to anyone and everyone she feels the need to – including the Queen herself. In multiple scenes, she tells the audience of all her letters, but also of the underlying story of the couple and their child across the road. She never sees the child, only the parents going out every night, and decides she is viewing a case of neglect, and setting out to solve this in the only way she knows – writing letters. It is only when the police show up at her door that she learns that the letters have caused more harm than good, and her assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. She is warned that anymore letters could send her to prison.
This episode of Talking Heads is absolutely fantastically written and played, and instantly draws the audience in, making them want to watch the rest of the series as soon as it has finished. The combination of the seemingly mundane letter-talk and the slightly hidden story of the family across the road underneath make an incredibly interesting plot that makes you will Irene through her stories of the letters to find out what has happened to the family. The scenes are incredibly cleverly structured, so that you know how the story has progressed at the change of a location, or the expression on Staunton’s face, and the character of Irene herself is perfectly played, with a twisting story that shows her judgement disappearing as she is proven wrong through her letters and is now one of the ones being judged. With the slight addition of Bennett’s touch of humour and dramatic irony, this series opener is beautiful in every way and even as a person who struggles to watch TV shows, I was completely entranced.
Talking Heads: A Lady of Letters is currently available on BBC iPlayer. It was rated 15 by the BBFC and some of the other episodes in the series contain distressing content.