Age Before Beauty, review: a family saga more bonkers than a Jacobean drama
Debbie Horsfield will always be remembered for resurrecting Poldark. But her back catalogue also consists of several racy dramas rooted in her native North West. Her tactic is to bung disparate characters together and watch things combust. It worked above all in Noughties series Cutting It, a smoking hot salon saga set in Manchester that ran to four series.
Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Age Before Beauty (BBC One) is another salon saga, also set in Manchester. But the title points to a shift in focus. In the opening episode, Bel (Polly Walker) returned to Mirrorbel Beauty after 18 years away bringing up twins. She found it in dire straits because her vain and superficial sister Leanne (Kelly Harrison) is keener on botoxing than double-entry bookkeeping. Bel was also feeling her age, not helped by the discovery that her neglected joiner husband Wesley (Cutting It alumnus James Murray) had joined groins with hot young fitness instructor Lorelei (Madeleine Mantock).
Why Wes, already built like a brick outhouse, would need to work on his pecs is a question best left unasked because Horsfield doesn’t trade in gritty realism: her characters and situations proudly levitate a good six inches off the ground. This works if and when believable, but I confess I struggled with the plot in which cuddly Teddy (Robson Green), married to the grotesque Leanne but still carrying a torch for Bel, set a honeytrap to lure Wes into infidelity. He was assisted by a junior schemer of doubtful provenance called Dante (Amir El-Masry). The plot is so bonkers that it could be Jacobean.
You can tell from their names that Horsfield’s people are colourful ciphers – no one’s called John or Debbie. She crowds her canvas with the likes of Chizzler (Struan Rodger), a lanky-haired boxing coach in a wheelchair married to septuagenarian stylist Ivy-Rae (Sue Johnston) who has an eye for muscly Brazilians. There’s also a stroppy, pampered tween called Disney whose single mother worried that she was mixing with children from the estate. “Do they even know their parents?” “Do I even know mine?” retorted Disney, a little too knowingly.
It’s breathless and intense, but Age Before Beauty is about as authentic as Leanne’s bimbo eyelashes.