Don’t be fooled. This dysfunctional family gives the appearance of happiness and love, but Flesh and Blood disguises a murder. This mystery-thriller set in the sunshine and warm beaches of West Sussex is a multigenerational psychodrama. The gentle surf and sunny skies can lull the residents into a false sense of comfort and security. Flesh and Blood immediately goes to the darkly secretive interior family drama that throws shade on the murdered. Wisely keeping the identity of the victim hidden,–although the obscured victim is wheeled into an ambulance in the opening scene–viewers are left guessing which of the two main characters was murdered.
The major narrative is an affluent widow’s new romance at the age of almost–seventy. Retired Dr. Mark Kenneally seems the perfect romantic partner for her: warm, understanding, and completely devoted to her. On Vivien’s seventieth birthday, family secrets and betrayal surface in a perfect storm. Vivien (the beautiful Francesca Annis), in pursuing her desire for companionship and adventure eighteen months after her husband’s passing. Disappointed, she is confronted with her adult kids’ disapproval, envy, and rivalry over their expected inheritance. The ugly lives of each of the three adult children impact how they feel towards their mother’s newfound joy and passion. All three are deeply suspicious of Dr. Mark Keneally.
To increase the tensions further, there is the septuagenarian neighbor, Mary (Imelda Staunton in an impeccably nuanced performance). She is timid, lonely and living her life through the seemingly perfect family she watches with binoculars from her kitchen window. But Mary is uncomfortably crossing boundaries of identity between herself and Vivien. Having no close family of her own,–her husband gone and her young son dead– she has been a second mother, not solely a caregiver, to Vivien’s three children. Mary’s passive-aggressive helpfulness eggs on the adult children’s conflict with their mother’s romantic relationship with the doctor. Vivien seems to have sincere affection for Mary but Mary appears unhealthily attached to Vivien.
As for Mark: Is he hiding something? Is he really what he seems?
In this four-episode whodunit, we see the police detective interview the three adult children and the neighbor. However, not all of the background information they provide on the days leading up to the murder quite match the truths the viewer is shown.
Highly entertaining and clever–a great evening’s worth of binge-viewing on Masterpiece Theater, or relish this mystery thriller in smaller doses. For those who like Flesh and Blood, you’ll also enjoy the novel Things Unsaid.
Note: Available on pbs.org under Masterpiece Theater programs. Not to be confused with Hulu’s original series: Flesh and Blood–Into the Dark.