I Watched: Isolation Stories

As we continue to wade through conflicting reports of plans to reopen or reopenings gone horribly wrong thus forcing an immediate shutdown, production studios have been finding ways to provide programming for our viewing pleasure. One such attempt is Isolation Stories, four 15-minute dramas created under lockdown that reflect the trials and tribulations families are going through after weeks of isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic crisis. The series is the brainchild of Jeff Pope (writer of Stan & Ollie), whose entire family contracted the coronavirus and luckily were able to come out on the other side in good health without the need for hospitalization.

First up, we have “Mel” written by Gaby Chiappe, directed by Paul Whittington and starring Sheridan Smith in which we find the titular Mel heavily pregnant and absolutely alone in her apartment. To say she’s fed up with life would be an understatement. The father of the baby is a married man who decided to stay with his wife and family, leaving her having to go through the birth of her first child without any support. She even feels estranged from her own family who are all holed up at her Mum and Dad’s house.

Boredom, fear and maybe even a touch of cabin fever causes her to go down the list of people on her phone, desperate to make a connection, even reaching out to a person she hasn’t spoken to in years. Later that evening, Mel is awakened by a call from a stranger. It turns one of the old numbers she dialed belongs to someone new. The female voice on the other end of the line is kind and soothing as Mel gives voice to all her fears and woes. The voice reassures Mel that she’ll be a great Mum but the call is interrupted when a male voice begins shouting and the call is abruptly cut off.

I have a problem with this. Obviously, the woman on the other end of the phone is in an abusive relationship and Mel does attempt to call back but the phone number has been withheld. The story simply moves on from there with Mel having a new appreciation for her situation. What happened to the selfless woman who, despite her own situation, reached out to offer comfort to someone in need? Yes, her number was withheld, but Mel still had the number of the old friend on her phone and could have, should have, called to check on her.

In “Ron & Russell” written by Jeff Pope, directed by Louise Hooper and starring Tom Glenister and Robert Glenister, we find ex-convict Russell who is none too pleased to be isolated with his father, Ron, who believes his son has brought shame on the family. Ron is ill but it’s too early to tell if it’s related to Covid-19 and added to that is the fact that he might have a touch of dementia as he’s convinced he’s not in his own home. Russell doesn’t carry that care-giver gene but as the only healthy person in the house, he’s forced to become his father’s keeper. Things do not go smoothly, especially one time during a feeding when Ron mistakes Russell for his older brother and confesses what a disappoint his son is and calling him a compulsive liar. Russell decides to use his proclivity for lying to do some good for once in order to keep his father’s spirits up. The outcome is heartwarming.

In “Mike & Rochelle” written by William Ivory, directed by Paul Andrew Williams and starring Angela Griffin and Darren Boyd, we meet Mike, an utterly self-absorbed, paranoid hypochondriac who’s living his worst fear of being surrounded by an undetectable, untreatable, silent killer virus. Rochelle gives in to his insistence of an emergency online session, prepared to try and talk him down from the precipice, despite the day being the anniversary of a personal day of hardship for her. Of all the stories, this is the most character driven and a perfect example of role reversal done properly. My personal favorite of the lot.

In “Karen” written by Neil McKay, directed by David Blair and starring Eddie Marsan and David Threlfall, Stephen is isolated in the house with his two sons but his father-in-law, Brian, stops by outside the sliding glass doors leading to the back garden every day to mess about and make boy smile. But Stephen is still bitter and hurting after being left by his wife, the titular Karen, and is annoyed by the daily visits. He’s also ignoring Karen’s request to come see the boys, that is, until he and Brian have a private heart to heart about infidelity and forgiveness.

There’s also a fifth instalment, Isolation Stories: Behind the Scenes, that shows the process of the actors and their family members setting up equipment and shots to film themselves with the directors viewing the footage via smartphones in order to ensure the best takes possible.

So, would I recommend Isolation Stories? Most assuredly. And I wouldn’t mind seeing an additional, expanded series showcasing the various experiences that families and individuals are going through during these difficult times. I’m sure there are hundreds of unique stories just waiting to be told.

Ciao til next now.