Monday, 18 June 2012


A whopping 3.1 million people tuned into BBC1 to watch the first episode of True Love last night, a drama set in sunny Margate and starring David Tennant and former EastEnders actress Lacey Turner. On the whole, I was pleased to be one of millions watching. Words cannot express how wonderful it was to see Margate on the small screen, and I truly mean that.

For all of Episode 1's faults (and, let's admit it, there were some), True Love's setting meant it was a magnificent advert for Margate, showcasing the beauty of our seaside town with expert panache that I almost had to pinch myself that I lived there(!). If just one-tenth of those who watched BBC1 last night decide to pay Margate a visit then it will have given our local tourism industry a much-appreciated shot in the arm - exactly what we need before summer comes along!

David Tennant played Nick, a press officer working in the communications team at Thanet District Council, who is a happily married man until an ex-girlfriend from his past called Serena (Vicky McClure) turns up and tempts him to join her in Pegwell Bay Hotel in Ramsgate for a steamy love affair. This first episode focused on Nick's dilemma: Will he choose to lie and betray his wife, or will he give in to a bit of rumpy pumpy with his old flame? Needless to say, the unfolding story wasn't the cheeriest of TV viewing experiences. It was a tad depressing, let's be honest.

But my main criticism of the episode is that relying on the cast to improvise seemed to result in somewhat wooden performances from all involved, especially Tennant. Most of the characters' dialogue was banal and unconvincing; the actors tended towards trite and clich├ęd platitudes, cringe-inducing pauses, and the absence of a script was rather obvious and glaring. As David Brown on Radio Times wrote:

"[...] the main issue was the lack of script. The conceit of True Love was that the improvisation – with all its hesitations and awkward silences - was meant to say something profound about the state of its characters’ relationships. But it ended up falling short of its intentions."

I understand that some people will say that improvisation gives it more 'realism' but I simply didn't feel that the improv in Episode 1 of 'True Love' worked very well. It didn't endear me towards the characters or Nick's dilemma at all - the off-the-cuff interplay just felt rather flat and insipid to me. It made Nick's choices seem rather tawdry in the end, but maybe that was the idea. Call me a purist, but I would've preferred it if Dominic Savage had gone to the bother of actually writing a script.

Thankfully, Margate didn't take long to step into the limelight and became the show's leading star. It stole most scenes and arguably outshone even Tennant himself. Most of the familiar local landmarks were shoehorned into so many scenes I practically lost count after a while. I could scarcely believe that so many locations were used.

The cinematography - such as the scene which included Margate's Turner-esque skies - was glorious and I have no doubt that a large proportion of the 3.1 million who watched will feel tempted to take a trip down to Margate and see it for themselves. For that reason, I'm not too bothered about the fact that I didn't appreciate True Love's lack of faith in Nick's fidelity, nor the fact that the improvisation and lack of a script left the show quite a stilted viewing experience.

Still, none my quibbles matters in the end. I enjoyed seeing all of my favourite local haunts on TV and had a good chuckle to myself while doing it. It's definitely worth watching. If you want to see Margate in all its glory, you can still catch Episode 1 of True Love on BBC iPlayer here. Episode 2 airs tonight at 10:35pm on BBC1.

Image credit: Tennant News blog. The inclusion of this image is not an endorsement of this post.


  1. This should have been shown earlier in the day, perhaps in the afternoon, it would have been more at home.

  2. It was a bit dull. And the town looked empty. Same with the second episode tonight.

  3. I thought it was filmed in Hull

  4. I found with both episodes I kept thinking back to them the next day. Think anyone who has held a torch for their first love or been betrayed would have them painful to watch.

    Please don't think Thanet is a good place to live as it is absolutely terrible*

    *lying about this but don't want everyone moving down here and putting houses price up - well not until my kids have got a foot on the local property ladder!

  5. Oh for God's sake Anonymous. Margate finally gets showcased on National TV, demonstrating just how fab it is, and all you can do is kvetch. I despair. As for emptiness, has it not ocurred to you that there may be an artistic reason for this? I thought the actors did very well in conveying the muddle that these sort of things provoke- it's never cut and dried and it never ends, not in real life. I think it's excellent and we should all be proud.

  6. Margate looked amazing , the architecture of the town is wonderful, the seascapes breathtaking even the view from Arlington house made you forget the ugliness of the building itself. i spent many happy summer holidays with my grandparents in Birchington in the 70,s and i have always promised myself that if i ever won the lottery i would buy a holiday home in that area. I cannot understand that with it's relative closeness to London more people haven't already done so. I still believe that Margate will have it's day .

  7. Despite the stellar cast, the only reason I tuned in was to see Margate. I'm not sure I would have stayed with the series otherwise. I thought the soundtrack was intrusive, and the improvisation was weak. I couldn't help contrasting the latter (unfavourably) with Mike Leigh's wonderful "Grown-ups", set not a million miles away in Canterbury; starring Lesley Manville, Phil Davis, and Thanet's very own Brenda Blethyn.

    However, I thought Margate looked beautiful: soft and dreamy. When I wasn't watching with a huge lump in my throat, I was shrieking to my sister (watching in her bedroom) things like, "He works at TDC!!!" and "Did you see the bus with 'Minnis Bay' on the front?", and "That's never Palm Bay!" Isn't it odd how things with which we are familar somehow become more significant when seen on film or TV?

    Did it succeed as a drama? Not altogether sure. What impact has it had on people who don't know Margate? How can I possibly tell? But as a love letter to Margate, I think it succeeds. It was nice to see the dear old gal getting positive comments in the Press instead of the usual cheap laughs and low blows from journalists asked to provide a filler piece on the state of Britain's seaside resorts.

    If it comes out on DVD I'll probably get it, but not for the drama itself, just to have Margate on film.

  8. I thought the improvisation worked quite well, bumbling conversations and awkward pauses is what we all do best!