Stellar Steadman shows us Life

Alison Steadman is widely recognised as one of our most watchable actors. And her stellar performance in hit BBC drama Life has only added further kudos to her reputation.

Her depiction of Gail Reynolds, suddenly reassessing her life and marriage at the point of her 70th birthday, has been one of the most memorable on TV this year.

Viewers have witnessed the unravelling of her seemingly blissful life in retirement with husband Henry (Peter Davison).

This weekly look into the lives of residents in a  sub-divided Victorian house in suburban Manchester has become must-watch TV. The dilemma has been whether to ditch the wait and binge the whole six episodes on BBC iplayer.


Steadman’s character has undergone an awakening. A chance encounter with a childhood friend made her confront the reality of her marriage to the boorish Henry. His quips and jibes have finally been recognised for what they are – an attempt to undermine his wife and retain his dominant partner status. An ill-judged confession about a previous affair does Henry’s cause no favours as Gail takes control of her life again.

We’ve so far resisted the temptation to settle down on the settee and soak up the whole series. So no more plot spoilers from us, save to say things are getting darker for the separated couple.

Surge in ‘silver splitters’

Steadman is well known through a myriad of roles including, of course, Pam in Gavin and Stacey. She does an excellent job here of portraying the hurt and confusion her character feels. To the outside world (and family and friends who don’t look too closely) she appears happy enough with her lot. But the landmark birthday and meeting with the school pal who remembers her as a more outgoing, ambitious and confident individual bites her deeply.

At a time in life when the couple, certainly in Henry’s eyes, should be looking forward to a golden sunset together, they are thrust apart and the comfy facade is exposed to reveal the cracks beneath.

Credit as well to Davison’s indignant character. Henry had rather assumed his wife would be supporting him through his recent cancer diagnosis.

Reassessing relationships must be an autumnal theme for the Beeb with their recent Sunday nighter Us, travelling in similar territory.

It’s a rich mine with a surge in so-called ‘silver splitters’ since the start of the century. Much of that increase is pinned on people living longer and being more willing to question what they want from their post-retirement years.

As with Gail, as people remain fitter and independent for longer, they decide putting up with an unhappy marriage in retirement is not their only option.

Life, therefore, seems aptly titled.

→ We’ve also enjoyed trying to spot favourite city landmarks used as locations for filming – from Ancoats to Stretford to West Didsbury and many points in between.

→ This year we’ve also been big fans of first-love drama Normal People.