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29 October 2014
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Mutual Friends
Alexander Armstrong and Marc Warren

Mutual Friends



Productions notes


The comedy drama Mutual Friends is written by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto, who have collaborated before on such long-running series as The Kumars At No. 42 and Goodness, Gracious Me.

 

They also wrote a one-off comedy drama starring Sanjeev Bhaskar called Chopra Town and Anil executive produced The Office.

 

Anil explains that they were inspired to write the series by many things – but that both of them hitting 40 was a significant if subconscious one.

 

He says: "We wanted to write a comedy drama that had a male relationship at its centre and which was told primarily, but not exclusively, from a male perspective.

 

"It felt like there had been quite a lot of female-skewed shows and we wanted to come at it from another angle."

 

He continues: "We are constantly told that men are emotionally illiterate and unable to express their feelings properly.

 

"Generally this is true, but sometimes it's not necessarily a bad thing. Men tend not to ask each other how they are feeling and that can lead to many firm and lasting friendships.

 

"With Richard and me, I think I have known him long enough to know when he is upset or hurt, but I also know that the last thing he wants to do is discuss it in a frank and caring way with me.

 

"Usually we talk about sport or television, or how the rest of the world is populated by idiots. This is highly satisfactory."

 

Producer Rob Bullock explains that one of the most important themes of the series, encapsulated by the character of Martin, played by Marc Warren, is "the woeful plight of modern man".

 

"He has to do the right thing and tick all the right boxes – be strong but also sensitive, reliable but also exciting and unpredictable, etcetera etcetera – and the harder he tries, the more completely clueless he becomes.

 

"It's this male perspective that makes the show stand out."

 

He continues: "Mutual Friends is about chalk and cheese, about people who shared rooms at university and how their lives have turned out nearly 20 years later and about male friendships – inspired by films like Sideways."

 

Hat Trick's Head of Drama, Mark Redhead, elaborates: "Male friendship is a wonderful area to explore; you don't often see it depicted on TV and that was the germ of an idea that became Mutual Friends."

 

Rob Bullock agrees: "It's a fertile area. Maybe male friendships are thought to be too shallow or maybe there's the perception that drama is predominantly female and the audience wouldn't be interested in male friendship.

 

"Also people may think that drama that's targeted at a male audience is going to be more action-based, I suppose."

 

He continues: "In my experience, men are rubbish at keeping in touch with their friends. As you get older and reach your late thirties you suddenly realise that all the men you are still in touch with are the husbands of your wife's friends!

 

"Because we don't have support networks, we don't nurture and look after our network of friends in the same way that women do so that when our marriages break down we end up on a terrible downwards spiral of drinking and despair whilst women go into the embrace of their friends.

 

"Mutual Friends is about how one man who's been sleepwalking through his life suddenly has the rug pulled out from under his feet when he discovers his wife has been having an affair with his dead best friend and everything he has just taken for granted starts to unravel."

 

Rob laughs: "What's lovely is that although Patrick is constantly getting Martin into trouble, he is also in many respects his salvation as Martin needs to lighten up a bit.

 

"Everyone should have a Patrick to take them out and get them drunk and tell them to stop worrying!"

 

He continues: "The other thing this series says about male friendship is the eternal battle in our short days for who we spend time with – you have a family, a job and responsibilities that are pulling you in one direction whilst your friends pull you in another and that is at the heart of the show – the tug of war for Martin's soul.

 

"Patrick in one direction, getting him into trouble, getting him drunk and telling him to have fun and be irresponsible, and then there's Jen tugging him the other way and saying 'What about our marriage, our mortgage, our kids, our house?'

 

"So there are two sorts of marriages – the one between Martin and Jen and the one between Martin and Patrick, and they each have their ups and downs and fallings out and reconciliations, which is lovely."

 

Although the catalyst for the story is the death of a close friend, Mutual Friends is rich in comedy, as Rob explains: "Anil and Richard, the writers, both come from high-profile comic backgrounds.

 

"They manage to find comedy in the most unlikely places but in a very real way.

 

"The truth of funerals is that not everyone stands around looking absolutely miserable.

 

"The blokes shuffle off and, when they can't be overheard, start talking about football, whilst the women discuss who that new girl is that so-and-so came with and what she's wearing – and that's what the writers have tapped into, bringing with it a good dark sense of humour.

 

"And our characters are on the cusp of hitting 40 – just when things start going wrong and so many lives fall apart!

 

"I suppose it's the age when everyone starts ripping up their plan As and getting on with Plan B! All those things you thought you were going to do haven't quite worked out."

 

Bringing together all these old friends who have gone off in different directions was key to the drama.

 

Rob says: "It's that idea that Four Weddings And A Funeral tapped into, the way in which you only bump into people at these events – as one of the characters says 'Christ, one of us has to die for us to all get together,' and that's particularly true of men not being very good at keeping their friendships going."

 

He continues: "The two men whose friendship is integral to this, Patrick and Martin, have both reached crisis point but in different ways and for different reasons.

 

"For Martin it's about the breakdown of his marriage; he's a man who's played everything by the book – marriage, kids, a sensible job – and yet he discovers that his wife is having an affair and his marriage breaks down.

 

"Patrick, on the other hand, is the irresponsible, flamboyant character who runs a sort of Boden-type mail order catalogue, but his business partner does the dirty on him.

 

"Patrick faces bankruptcy and the loss of his business – everything that gives him an identity.

 

"So they're both going through a very tough time and, without realising it, when they get back in touch, they're actually quite good for one another."

 

He adds: “There are elements of The Odd Couple in the drama, with Martin as the Jack Lemon type – slightly uptight and repressed, and Xander playing the extrovert, responsibility free part."

 

Martin is tortured by the idea of his wife having the affair with Carl.

 

Rob says: "He keeps having flashbacks where he can't stop thinking about his wife having sex with his best friend.

 

"He plays the scenario over and over in his head and it becomes increasingly more explicit as his imagination grapples with the details of what probably happened between Carl and his wife.

 

"We shot the scenes on old cine film to give it a nice, dream-like quality – that sort of scratchy, heightened colour that you get from those old movies you saw when you were a kid."

 

There are plenty of tantalising questions in Mutual Friends, as Rob explains: "It's a gripping plot full of strong story strands.

 

"Why did Carl kill himself for no apparent reason? What's going to happen to Patrick? What's going to happen to Martin and Jen's marriage?

 

"We meet them at a crisis point. The obstacle of Jen's affair is a big thing, obviously, and they try lots of different things to make themselves happy.

 

"Jen decides to try for another baby, 'a glue baby' as the writers term it.

 

"Martin is terrified as his financial situation gets more and more desperate over the series. Money worries underpin a lot of the series, and different characters respond in different ways."

 

The character of Martin's wife Jen, played by Keeley Hawes, is pivotal to the story.

 

Rob says: "Keeley is fantastic, an amazing actress with great charisma.

 

"Jen is a woman who is, on one level, incredibly selfish; she's had an affair with her husband's best friend, but she blames Martin for all of it; if he hadn't made her unhappy, she wouldn't have done it.

 

"Keeley can pull it off – be real but be funny at the same time, which is just what you need.

 

"She's so brilliant because she plays the part very sympathetically and it's rare to find someone like that.

 

"She blames Martin partly because it's easier to blame him than to accept the blame herself, and drags him to marriage guidance counselling.

 

"Martin just doesn't have the emotional tool kit to deal with this situation; he's got to talk about his feelings whilst he just wants to go back to how things were. And Marc has huge comic energy."

 

He laughs: "I do think that Anil and Richard have captured the arguments between husband and wife quite brilliantly – that flow between high seriousness and pettiness that you have in one argument.

 

"The arguments between Jen and Martin are very realistic and convincing.

 

"On the surface everything seems fine, apparent bliss, but I guess there's an element of Desperate Housewives as well, that notion of commuter-land and suburbia and the dark secrets and lies that go on under the surface."

 

Co-writer Anil Gupta comments: "I hope people will watch Mutual Friends because it's warm, engaging and funny. If they take away any more than that, so much the better."

 

Producer Rob Bullock adds: "Happiness is an elusive thing. Just when you think you're alright and can relax, something comes along and bang, you're screwed.

 

"This happens in different ways in Mutual Friends – Martin discovers that his wife slept with his best friend, Patrick is shafted by his business partner, Leigh wakes up one morning and discovers she's bankrupt – and the beauty of Anil and Richard's writing is that they find comedy in that.

 

"They tackle terrifying subjects and make them funny. That's why this series is unmissable!"

 


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