Series Review

'Flowers' is an unexpected dark comedy about depression

This British series explores mental-health issues and their destablising influence on a family. Put your phone away while watching this one

12 May 2019 - 00:05
Deborah (Olivia Colman) and Maurice (Julian Barratt) are unnervingly close to unravelling in Netflix's 'Flowers'.
Deborah (Olivia Colman) and Maurice (Julian Barratt) are unnervingly close to unravelling in Netflix's 'Flowers'.
Image: Supplied

As a rule of thumb, a show that begins with a man walking to a field at his countryside home with a chair and rope and the intention of hanging himself is likely to be good. You also wouldn't expect the show to turn out to be a comedy, but that's just what Netflix's Flowers is - a dark, humorous look at mental health and how it destabilises a family.

The English series follows the travails of Maurice Flowers (a struggling children's book author), his skittish trombone teacher of a wife, Deborah, their twins, Maurice's Japanese live-in assistant Shun and Maurice's elderly mother.

Having failed to end his life Maurice retreats to their run-down country home where he is confronted with the fact that it's his anniversary. A lie about having planned a party blossoms into a real but shambolic celebration that climaxes in a dead granny and a young boy revealing that Maurice had asked him not to tell anyone about the secret snake.

Put that way it all sounds a little slapstick and that impression isn't helped by the fact that Shun speaks in an Asian accent that can be interpreted as quasi-racist. He also has a penchant for creating erotic drawings of gay superheroes. Mercifully, the show is more sophisticated than that.

The character of Shun is played by the show's creator, Will Sharpe, who does a compelling job at fusing levity with very dark subject matter.

Each character seems to be grappling with a mental health issue and as the effects of those on the plotline unfurl throughout the series the interactions between the cast become increasingly complicated.

WATCH | The trailer for 'Flowers'

There is something unnervingly real about the events that unfold in Flowers. Watching a movie or series always requires varying degrees of suspension of disbelief. Unlike the absurdity of Sheldon Cooper being able to fly in Big Bang Theory, Flowers takes a different tack. You could argue that some events stretch the bounds of belief but the main characters look and feel like people from the real world and react like it too. Maurice's depression is real, visceral and eerily familiar.

Deborah is played wonderfully by Oscar winner Olivia Colman. Every time she pops on screen you want to hug her and tell her that everything is going to be all right. She is the queen of putting on a brave face, but you get the impression that she is just one shock away from justifiably unravelling.

What she believed was just a rut in their run-of-the-mill marriage woes turns out to be a much deeper furrow and her rose-tinted glasses (and a familial tendency to communicate badly) have left her ill- prepared for the truth.

Added to this, she also has to deal with a difficult relationship with her sister and a daughter who holds heavy secrets. Deborah has to navigate the same kinds of issues and jump similar hurdles as many women do on a daily basis.

As series go, Flowers is well executed, beautifully shot and engrossing. It is a show made to be watched without the distraction of your phone - something different and beautiful in the way shattered glass on tarmac can be pretty when the light hits it right. And Will Sharpe makes sure the light hits it perfectly.

• 'Flowers' is streaming on Netflix.