In ITV’s new drama, Finding Alice, Keeley Hawes plays a widow who uses humour to help her grieve, and it prompts a discussion about the different ways people cope with loss.
When we learned that Keeley Hawes would star in a new comedy-drama about grief this year, our interest piqued. What’s so funny about death? Especially at a time when we’re collectively grieving?
But before the first episode of Finding Alice aired on Sunday (17 January), Hawes and her co-executive producer on the show, Roger Goldby, talked about what they’re hoping to achieve in conversations around loss and grief.
“As well as the emotion, there is so much light,” Hawes told BBC News. “There is a gallows humour. People naturally go towards the lighter aspects, it helps you.”
“We wanted to tell a story that didn’t shy away from any of the truth and the pain, but also embrace the humour that is always, I think, very close to pain,” Goldby said in a press conference reported by Hello. “It was important to weave that in, it’s very natural and very organic and comes out of those situations.”
So did they manage to find the right balance of the highs and lows?
Finding Alice episode one recap
The show starts with Alice (Hawes) waking up in a beautiful “smart” house, worthy of Grand Designs, to a litter of empty bottles of wine, old takeaway cartons and dirty dishes.
Surprisingly, we learn that her husband, Harry (Jason Merrells), only died the night before. For some reason, she doesn’t seem like a woman whose husband died hours earlier – just someone who’s getting frustrated in such a discombobulating house.
A flashback scene shows that Alice and Harry had only just moved into the “dream” house with their teenage daughter, Charlotte (Isabella Pappas), on the same night. After taking her on a tour of their new home, Alice had found Harry’s body at the bottom of the stairs, suggesting that he’d fallen down them…
Back to the morning after, Alice puts on a bright floral dress, a pair of heels and a full face of make-up to speak to the police about what happened. They question her vibrant choice of outfit with their facial expressions, and Alice’s mother (Joanna Lumley) asks, “What are you wearing?” when she comes to visit.
Clearly, we are expected to dress in a certain way after the death of a loved one.
Coping in those first 48 hours of her husband’s death, Alice uses comedy punchlines to get through. “Are you going to suggest a house-shaped coffin?” she asks the undertaker who asks what Harry’s hobbies were. “It’s your worst nightmare come true,” she says to Harry in the morgue, where a nurse has put a Spurs hat on him to cover the post-mortem scars.
But behind the gags (which there are perhaps a few too many of in this writer’s opinion), Alice is clearly in pain and distress. She chooses to order wine instead of emailing her friends the news, and she borrows money from her daughter. She may be wearing mascara, but she’s not OK.
So, did they manage to find the right balance of emotions when it comes to grief? The fact is that there is no right balance: we all need to navigate and process it in our own way. And for Alice, that’s one floral dress and a funny one-liner at a time.
Along with this refreshing exploration of grief, there is also plenty of drama to keep us interested in the next five episodes.
We want to know why Alice is hiding the CCTV footage from the police? Was that really a business partner of Harry’s who popped round to the house? Did Alice know Harry had a grown son? Was he the one who was at the bottom of the stairs that night? Did he kill Harry? And what was the letter that Charlotte found with a fertility treatment bill inside it all about?
Hopefully, we’ll find out more in next Sunday’s episode.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…