“Ron & Russell” might not be upbeat, but it’s no less effective because of that — an uncomfortable, depressing tale of a father and son quarantined together against both their wishes.
This review of Isolation Stories episode 2, “Ron & Russell”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Whatever the objective of ITV’s Isolation Stories, cheering people up isn’t it. The debut mini-drama, about a heavily-pregnant Sheridan Smith grappling with her abandonment by the married father of her child and being cheered up only by a woman who was a victim of domestic abuse, seems like jovial fare when compared to Isolation Stories episode 2, about Ron and Russell (real-life relations Robert and Tom Glenister), a bed-bound father succumbing to both Covid-19 and an unspecified but obvious form of Alzheimer’s, and his wayward former drug addict son attempting to care for him against both of their wishes.
Nothing about that setup or how it plays out, save for a couple of moments of levity, is designed to be uplifting in these trying times. This is a dark and mean-spirited drama about a father understandably resenting his son for both his drug addiction and the thieving that paid for it, and a son resenting his father for not allowing him to be held to any standard other than the one he set at his worst. It won’t cheer you up, but it shouldn’t, I think, be judged on that basis; it’s a story deeply rooted in a very mundane and human bitterness that is real and has likely been exacerbated by current circumstances in a way that shouldn’t be ignored.
Both Glenisters do a lot of dramatic heavy lifting here, with the younger Tom especially conveying a desperation to earn his father’s respect and approval that reaches a crescendo when Ron, deep in a delusion and believing himself to be talking to Russell’s much more accomplished brother, lays out the depth of his resentment for his son and the shame he brought on the family. Russell sits and endures this while devotedly spooning his father mouthfuls of soup, and it’s a quietly tragic scene. Russell’s apparently pathological dishonesty is reverse-engineered as altruism later when he lifts Ron’s spirits by convincing him that the 8 pm Thursday night clap is for his birthday.
This, along with some moments of humor around a turkey probe and a showering, helps to form this picture of a strained relationship that builds to a bittersweet moment of semi-acceptance and a very last-second cliffhanger. This is by no means chirpy telly, but it’ll stick with you.
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