The holiday television season provides us many treats, but a two-part drama about a middle-aged guy asking his lifelong best friend to organise his assisted suicide in Switzerland is not one of them.
Let’s put aside for the time being the Grinchish intentions of the schedulers who thought the time between Christmas and New Year would be ideal for a heart-stopping emotional catharsis brought on by the hangover gap twist.
Despite its bleak subject matter, Mayflies could be the most upbeat way to spend two hours of your holiday.
Mayflies bounces between the euphoria of a post-punk adolescence spent partying to New Order and The Skids, buoyed by the talents of Martin Compston and Tony Curran as Jimmy and Tully, and the gloom of the present, when livewire Tully’s existence is swiftly vanishing.
This adaptation of Andrew O’Hagan’s Scotland-set novel, shot through with gallows humour and no little wisdom, tries to strike a delicate balance between human drama and an exploration of the complex issues surrounding assisted suicide, with Tully’s wife Anna (Ashley Jensen) vehemently opposing her husband’s desire to end his life.
In particular in the second episode, the argument comes close to overshadowing the drama. The flashbacks to the 1980s include Tully and Jimmy and their crew of wild teenagers living it up, and they occasionally cross into the realm of satire.
Yet though it’s easy to pick holes in Mayflies, one thing can’t be denied: the emotional climax, as Tully and his nearest and dearest face up to his fate, hit me like a sock in the jaw.
You might need a bottle of Scotch nearby.
Well, by nailing its colours to the mast in what is an agonisingly difficult debate, Mayflies feels like a hymn of praise to the power of life and the power of choice.
I urge you to watch it: it’s not, to borrow Tully’s broad Scots vernacular, talking pish.
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