The thing about love stories and adultery is that nothing ends happily, or does it? That’s what the David Nicholls’ penned drama The 7.39 asks its viewers. Starring David Morrissey (The Walking Dead) and Sherridan Smith (Two Pints and a Packet of Crisps), the two-part drama tells the story of Sally Thorn, a successful health-club owner, and Carl Matthews, a real estate agent, who meet on a morning commuter train and strike up a friendship after a row over the last remaining seat. The first episode tackles their budding friendship before it ebbs into the second episode which explores their affair and the subsequent fall out between their respective partners when the affair is exposed.
The supporting cast of Olivia Coleman and Sean McGuire really add depth and humanity to the otherwise standard tale of love, renewal and consequence. Coleman’s Maggie is a vision as the scorned wife of Carl while McGuire’s Ryan really is the epitome of an over-eager young lover who’s backed his fiance into a proverbial corner. Upon discovering the affair, Maggie kicks Carl out and Ryan, uncharacteristically, flies off the handle and almost hits Sally. Up until then, Maggie and Ryan had been the stereotypical ‘perfect’, stable, part of their relationships. They were cool headed and controlled. Perhaps their reactions could be construed as a cliche, but I liked how Nicholls handled the revelation. However, that was the only thing I liked about the second part of the series.
The second part of The 7.39 was a sad, awkward, atypical affair, discovery, fall out, happy ending cliché. Carl and Sally embark on the physical aspect of their relationship. Things seem fine save for the fact Maggie is beginning to get suspicious after Carl looses his job and her suspicions prove correct when she finds Sally and him hugging it out in a park. The typical whirlwind associated with most affair discovery plays out far too quickly and the consequences aren’t felt to their full potential. It almost felt like Nicholls wanted another hour to fully expand but couldn’t so he jammed packed everything into under an hour and it, unfortunately, slighted the wonderful relationship Morrissey and Smith presented to us in the first episode. Even the five minute rushed ending, set two years post the fallout, was cliched.
I’m all for happy endings, however, as a viewer, I felt, ironically, cheated. I’ve seen the typical happy endings to adulterous romance. What I don’t see very often is the non-typical ‘sad’ endings. I feel Nicholls had a lot more to give if he would’ve ended with Carl and Sally unhappy or maybe left it open ended. What if Carl hadn’t gotten another commuter job? What if Sally had her baby and raised it as a single mother? What if Sally ended up happy and Carl ended up divorced and vice versa? I feel wholly disappointed that such a well written, taut, first episode succumbed to the pitfalls of what felt like time constraints and banality.
That’s not saying The 7.39 should be avoided entirely. The first episode far supersedes the second and presents a wonderful peek into the lives of Sally and Carl as they embark on something so taboo. Their emotional affair is beautiful and almost innocent, save for the fact that one’s married and the other’s engaged. It’s this type of storytelling that makes me overlook the fact that commuter trains aren’t always as pleasant as the ones depicted here. (In fact, many fans have slammed the train portrayal as ‘unrealistic’.) And it’s not just the storytelling, in the first part, that makes it so mezmerizing to watch. Morrissey and Smith have wonderful emotional chemistry. So much so, I almost wouldn’t have minded the physical aspect of the affair to be left out entirely.
Despite the outcome, The 7.39 is a beautiful piece of BBC drama. It’s well shot, well staged, well acted and, for the most part, well written. Morrissey and Smith shine and Coleman and McGuire round out the tale with brilliant, nuanced performances as the scorned lovers. In all, if you have the ability to watch this two part drama, please do. It’s two hours of love and drama and a glimpse into a world of unhappy people made happy by a series of fortunate events and it poses the ultimate question we all ask ourselves: can excitement and happiness be found in the midst of a routine, uncomplicated, might I say it, boring life?