At the beginning of 2017 I read Us by David Nicholls, a Booker Prize longlisted novel that told the story of a family as they travel throughout Europe.
It begins one morning, when Douglas Peterson wakes up one morning and is told by his wife Connie that she is thinking of leaving him. In an attempt to rescue their marriage and also build a connection with his teenage son Albie, Douglas organises a ‘trip of a lifetime’, which takes in visits to Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Venice, and Barcelona.
However, things go badly wrong when Albie leaves following a disagreement with Douglas and begins to travel on his own. Feeling guilty and determined to prove himself, Douglas then sets about the near impossible task of tracking his son down, and will not give up until he does.
It was an entertaining book which I liked rather than loved, but when I discovered that it had been adapted into a four-part drama by the BBC, there was never any doubt that I would watch it. I was intrigued to see how the story would play out on screen, and it seemed like the perfect show to provide some escapism.
The adaptation was written by David Nicholls himself, so that made it clear it would be faithful to the book – that’s the first box ticked! Here are my thoughts on the show and how it measured up…
What I liked
The dual timelines. Just like in the book, the show takes place over two separate timelines. There is the present day, where Douglas and his family are exploring Europe in relative disharmony, and then we have the past where we see a young Douglas and Connie; the beginning of their unlikely relationship and how it unfolds.
These timelines provided a strong background to the story and the show portrayed them quite well. They never became too much of a distraction from the present day either, always seeming to come in at just the right moments.
The cinematography. For me, this was the absolute best thing about seeing Us on the screen. It is beautifully shot and every camera angle was inch perfect *insert heart eyes*. The fact the story takes place in cities with amazing architecture and landmarks definitely helped, and it filled me with a sense of wanderlust, but immense credit needs to go to the director Geoffrey Sax and the production team for making it look so great. The opening titles were very pretty, too!
The acting. Tom Hollander is an excellent actor and was the ideal person to play Douglas. It is his portrayal that makes you identify with Douglas as a character and make him somewhat relatable, even if he is somewhat aloof. I also really appreciated Sofie Grabol as Freja, Gina Bramhill as a multi-faceted young Connie, and a special mention for Thaddea Graham as Kat. She was so fun and charismatic to watch!
The humour. David Nicholls is usually great at writing humour, and there were some scenes here that really stood out. They mostly involved Douglas, such as when his younger self went on a long and spooky diatribe towards one of Connie’s friends, and when he left his bag on the train in Italy and it left without him.
What I liked less
Some of the differences between the timelines. This was mostly to do with Connie. When you look at the two timelines, it is hard to believe that present day Connie and past Connie are the same person. I understand that events can change people and that living with Douglas made her settle into a certain way of living that was not how she imagined, but the difference just seemed a little too great for me.
The ending dragged a little. The final part was quite entertaining for the most part, but after the trip comes to an end the final half an hour did fall into a very slow pace that dragged out the ending. It was still very watchable and by this point you are invested in the characters and their story, but not much happened in this part.
Munich was cut. They cut the scenes in the book that were set in Munich, but all the other amazing cities helped to compensate!
Overall, I thought this was a very good adaptation, with outstanding production values, an unsurprisingly brilliant leading performance from Tom Hollander, and a great study of family dynamics. I really enjoyed it.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐