Arts and Culture

TV Review: “Mrs Wilson” by Lisa Harper Campbell

Posted on: Sat 19 Jan 2019

By Lisa Harper Campbell

The memoir of Alison Wilson, second wife of notorious bigamist and MI6 agent Alexander Wilson, has been adapted into a new BBC limited series. Played by her real-life granddaughter Ruth Wilson (The Affair, Luther), the eponymous Mrs Wilson discovers all is not what it had seemed when her husband dies leaving loose threads of other lives in his wake.

This family-based drama, along with a sprinkling of WWII-era political intrigue and post-war espionage is catnip for BBC audiences. A bread and butter period piece…it even features a sequence of the Blitz. I would argue a feature-length film may have been a better format as we find ourselves falling into the repetitive pattern as Alison tries to discover who Alexander really was and how he maintained his multiple façades: follow clue, small breakthrough, confrontation, repeat.

Alison’s journey is a nuanced one, exploring heartbreak, grief but also intense anger. Her husband, who went by several different names, worked for the government, a useful shroud to cover other nefarious activities including bigamy (he had three other wives) and fathering several children. Alison has two sons of her own and her misplaced sense of protecting them from the truth (or as much of what she knows to be truth) is an interesting point of conflict.

The 3-part series is hampered by the real-life ongoing censorship of Alexander Wilson’s file and documents held by the British government. The result of this is that Mrs Wilson is always hinting at the discovery of something amazing and revelatory but we never get there. An interesting story, made more engaging by the personal connection and solid performance of its main star, but it left you wanting more…a rather anticlimactic exercise.

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