review

Alice & Jack review: Wannabe grand love story that’s far from romantic

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Alice & Jack stars Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough.
Alice & Jack stars Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough. Credit: BBC First

What would you think if you’re on a date and the person sitting opposite you tells you he already has a soulmate?

“I’ve been in love with someone for 15 years and she’s in love with me,” Jack says to his date. “We’ve never managed to stay in a romantic relationship together for longer than 11 minutes so a long time ago, we decided to just be friends.

“We have everything apart from the physical, and that’s the way that will stay but I guess my point is, I’m not a completely clean slate.”

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It’s not even the first time he’s radically honest with a romantic prospect, and you have to give him some credit for his candour. But that’s also learned experience because when he wasn’t, it really didn’t work out so well.

That declaration is supposed to give viewers the idea that Alice & Jack, a six-part drama about two people who can’t spin out of each other’s orbit, is a grand romance. That’s certainly what it’s trying to be, but it never makes a convincing argument that its two lovers should be together.

The series starts in 2007 when the two meet on a blind date after matching on an app. He’s a medical researcher trying to cure Hashimoto’s disease and she works in finance and is already well off. They spend the night together and apparently have a great time. Jack is keen to continue their connection but Alice is ready to cut it off. She doesn’t do repeats.

Alice & Jack stars Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough.
A wannabe grand romance that fizzles. Credit: BBC First

That’s how it goes for the next 15 years, on-and-mostly-off, fleeting moments when one reaches out to the other only to find the other unavailable only for them to self-sabotage any possibility of contentment with someone else.

The series reveals a little of Alice’s background and why her attachment style is so distant but she is mostly a cypher. The series spends more time with Jack but he too is emotionally detached from the audience.

Neither character feels fully fleshed out and the biggest mystery is this supposedly unbreakable attraction between two people that have little onscreen spark. Alice and Jack spend most of the six episodes being mopey sad sacks.

Romances aren’t just games of seduction between two characters, they’re also meant to beguile the audience. We’re supposed to be able to see them as prospects, as someone we could fall for too.

That’s why there are so many strange parasocial relationships between viewers and readers with fictional characters such as Mr Darcy, Edward Rochester, Anthony Bridgerton and, for some, that cradle-robbing, melanin-challenged vampire played by Robert Pattinson.

We’re attracted to verve and charisma and despite Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough both being, elsewhere, incredibly charming and compelling stars, in Alice & Jack, there’s just not enough going on.

Alice & Jack stars Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough.
Always so sad. Credit: BBC First

Comparisons will be made to the latest screen adaptation of the weepie romance One Day, which also suffered from a lack of chemistry between the central pairing. But One Day at least had more dynamic story beats in the margins whereas Alice & Jack is too invested in the romance that wasn’t, to give enough time to its supporting characters and plotlines.

When Alice and Jack interact with other people in their lives — Jack’s workmate Paul (Sunil Patel), Jack’s wife-then-ex-wife Lynn (Aisling Bea) and Alice’s assistant Maya (Aimee Lou Wood) — it’s snappier. It needed to be more generous to the textures in their world.

There is something to be said for its attempt to portray a relationship between two people that have yet to deal with their baggage (although we’re still not sure what his are) and despite their desires, don’t function together but this isn’t a grown-up Normal People.

It may have had those ambitions. The nugget in Jack’s disclaimer that he’s been in love for 15 years with someone he can’t be with, would have made for a fascinating, sticky and compulsive story, but instead, Alice & Jack is a tedious romance that isn’t very romantic.

Rating: 2/5

Alice & Jack is streaming now on Binge, Foxtel and Fetch

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