The Split - A grown-up, sparkling drama of legal eagles

It seems the only people worth a TV drama these days are police officers, doctors and lawyers. So the question I asked myself when I sat down to watch The Split (BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm) was do we really need another series about lawyers and their oh-so-aspirational problems?

Friday, 27th April 2018, 4:48 pm
Updated Friday, 27th April 2018, 4:51 pm
From left, Ruth (Deborah Findlay), Nina (Annabel Scholey), Hannah (Nicola Walker), and Rose (Fiona Button) in The Split
From left, Ruth (Deborah Findlay), Nina (Annabel Scholey), Hannah (Nicola Walker), and Rose (Fiona Button) in The Split

The answer, I was surprised to discover, was yes.

Created and written by a woman, produced by women, starring four women in the lead roles, it was by no means exclusive.

The drama centres on a mother and her three daughters. There has been some sort of ruction, as eldest daughter Hannah (the brilliant Nicola Walker) has left the family law firm and joined a rival.

Meanwhile, middle daughter Nina is a bit flighty and struggling under mother’s thumb, while youngest daughter Rose is having doubts about her fiancé.

So far, so soapy, but there is more to it than that. The performances are terrific, and although Hannah is painted as a bit of a paragon – “you’re a divorce lawyer who doesn’t like divorce” – no one is irredeemably bad or irredeemably good.

Watch: Five of the best shows on TV this weekThe relationships are cleverly-drawn – the sisters are sisters first, with all the baggage, sarcasm, arguments and laughter that implies – while the men are not just ciphers.

The lawyers are divorce specialists, and The Split is good at illustrating the appalling toll of divorce on men, women and their children. It also cleverly lays groundwork for continuing storylines, with an absent father, and undertones of extra-marital desire.

The Split could have been This Life 20 years on, if Millie and Anna and Miles had got better at lawyering, but stayed neurotic. But it was much than that. A proper grown-up drama with wit, and a bit of sparkle. Just what we need.

I didn’t know much about The Woman In White (BBC1, Sundays, 9pm) beyond the fact it was about a woman facing an astronomical laundry bill, but it had a wonderful atmosphere of laudanum-laced drama.

You wonder why people still apply to go on The Island with Bear Grylls (Channel 4, Mondays, 9pm) given how awful they must know it will be, but it still provides some compelling TV.