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Wonderland: The Trouble With Love And Sex

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Zac Beattie Zac Beattie | 09:54 UK time, Wednesday, 11 May 2011

"So it's like Creature Comforts but with humans instead of animals?" is often what people ask when you say you've just made an animated documentary. It is and it isn't.

Yes, animated characters lip-synch the words of real people. But there's more talk of sex problems and extra-marital affairs in this.

The Trouble With Love And Sex is a hybrid of documentary and animation, which takes a look inside other people's real life relationships as they spill their troubles to relationship counsellors.

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There is certainly humour in it, but my ambition was to encourage understanding, not laughs. After all, we've all been there - heartache and rows.

I'd wanted to try a new way of making a documentary - to use animation to tell the stories of people who wouldn't normally agree to appear on screen.

Could animation help us get inside the counselling rooms of Relate and inside the normally private lives of its clients, if we only needed their voices?

Could animation make the storytelling more compelling?

I hope the answer to both of these is yes, but I'd be interested to know what you think.

We promised to design the participants' animated alter-egos so as not to look like them, but it still wasn't easy to find people to record with.

They had to agree to us using their real voices and, unsurprisingly, often felt like they had enough on their plate.

But for the brilliant and generous people who let me crouch in the corner of the counselling room to record their weekly sessions, being hidden behind the animation was critical.

It gave them enough privacy to feel able to talk freely about infidelity, erectile dysfunction, and their deepest family secrets in a way I don't think they would have in a traditional documentary.

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We wanted the animation to do more than just recreate what happened in the counselling room or at home. We wanted the animation to interpret the voices and their stories.

So sometimes the counselling room transforms into a frosty ice field or transports us 30 years back in time.

A fly buzzing against the window or an awkward glance act as a short hand for the emotional mood I witnessed whilst recording.

Jonathan, the animation director, was tirelessly patient with my obsessive commitment that, whatever the animation did, it had to be an honest and fair representation of the participants' experience.

These are the stories of just two couples and one single man struggling with relationships, but I hope viewers might find a tiny bit of themselves somewhere in the film.

Zac Beattie is the producer and director of Wonderland: The Trouble With Love And Sex.

Wonderland: The Trouble With Love And Sex is on BBC Two and BBC HD at 9pm on Wednesday, 11 May.

To find out times of future programmes in the Wonderland series please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    An excellent programme, sensitively handled, and well produced with good animation to approach a difficult issue within relationships. A programme worth paying a license fee for, more of this on the BBC please, educational and informative.

  • Comment number 2.

    The programme was brilliant - so moving. The people in the programme were so brave to do it. Thanks.

  • Comment number 3.

    This was a masterpiece, moving, enlightening and positive, congratulations BBC

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks, Zac and all the team.

    I just caught the last half hour of this and it was a very interesting, useful and important programme. Particularly good on the effect of parents and not talking. Kudos to those who let you record.

  • Comment number 5.

    Yeah really good, i just watched my first episode tonight. Suffice to say, i definitely related to one of them so i listened carefully to the advice. Good stuff and a great idea.

  • Comment number 6.

    Trusted that since Relate was involved it would not be exploitative and the programme justified this. Very interesting and sensitively done. Animation a great way to keep anonymity but allow the very real voices to tell their stories, without the programme makers interfering. Hope there is more to come.

  • Comment number 7.

    Still trying to work out how the animation added so much to the emotion - because it did. It all felt so human. Amazing work. Thank you :)

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree with Bazn, what a great programme. Kudos to the people who agreed to take part. They have allowed us a glimpse into a very intimate part of their lives.

    Seeing animated tears welling up was strangely touching. The gestures and facial expressions of the animated characters were perfect echoes of real life.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for a great programme. The animations were really good and conveyed all the complex emotions brilliantly.
    I would worry that the people might be identified, especially where names were mentioned, but I don't think anyone who watched the program could be anything other than sympathetic and supportive of the participants.
    It was a great insight into the work of the counsellors too. Their job can seem simple but this showed that there is more to it than meets the eye.

  • Comment number 10.

    What a truly wonderful piece of television. Having experienced both individual and couples counselling I know how hard it can be to express ones own feelings, let alone understand or be sympatheic to the feelings of others. This animation allows the honesty of those involved to be explored sensitively... really beautiful and joyful in an overwhelmingly positive way... thank you...

  • Comment number 11.

    Wonderful. I could feel the pain, the stalemate, frustration and confusion as if I were in the same room. The animation was so well set and the details you attended so precise. I would like an In Treatment type Wonderland treatment, one on every night with each night a full therapy session recorded in full. How helpful for all of us couples struggling through miscommunication, no communication and back history of issues.

  • Comment number 12.

    I thought the program was excellent!

  • Comment number 13.

    enjoyed program greatly...didn't expect to as animations not 'my thing'.

  • Comment number 14.

    Wonderland is the best documentary series made ever. I think this episode was also probably the best ever. Very thought provoking. Absolutely, well, wonderful!

  • Comment number 15.

    Saw the pre-publicity, but wasn't sure what to expect. Turned out to be so moving - spent most of it tissuing tears from my eyes. Relate should be proud, the animators too and thanks BBC - some lessons for my own home life to take away.

  • Comment number 16.

    well done zac. you score another 100% for first class documentary making, and brilliant to see something so enlightening in animation....clever you....we love your work

  • Comment number 17.

    I thought this was brilliant, so much to relate to (we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last weekend, and I so recognise the comments of Iain and Susan's children at the end). I was in tears when the credits came around! I think the animated characters make it slightly easier to digest, less voyeuristic. And the animation was phenomenal, especially all the body language details.

  • Comment number 18.

    I found it very moving, especially the depiction of the single man struggling with romantic relationships. It was so moving when he finally found some comfort and positive resolution from his counselling, I had tears in my eyes! Very intelligently and sensitively produced - thanks for this unique and memorable programme.

  • Comment number 19.

    Congratulations Zac and the team on a great production. Animation was detailed and reflected the voices, drawing you into the characters and their compelling stories. Inspired filmmaking, well done.

  • Comment number 20.

    Having been through relationship counselling, I thought this was a great representation of that experience. The animation was incredibly good, it conveyed the emotions so honestly that it made me smile, it made me cry too. A brilliant documentary, thank you.

  • Comment number 21.

    This was the most brilliant programme I've watched for months, maybe even years. I didn’t think I had relationship issues, but maybe I should think again, given the strength of my emotional reaction to it. Certainly it tapped powerfully into something very deep down. But I believe that even an unmoved observer, if there could be such a person, would have to marvel at the skill of the construction, the animation, the realism of the characters and their expressions, the editing of the sequences, the long shots and seemingly casual glances, the music. So, well done indeed. I’d love to see it again and it’s just such a pity that being in Ireland I can’t access the iPlayer, so I do hope it gets repeated.

  • Comment number 22.

    What an unexpected delight this programme was.....and so moving.

    The animation was full of wonderful asides that spoke volumes, and I became totally involved in each counselling journey.

    I wept along with Dave as he signed his goodbye to the 'dark forces' and was so glad to see that he finally threw away his pills.

    Thank you for such a wonderful documentary.

  • Comment number 23.

    I work in one of the centres where filming took place. First off I should thank Zac, and the rest of the BBC team for consideration they showed to everyone when arriving with their heap of equipment each week! A brilliant programme, that shows what really goes on, and the problems that a lot of people deal with in their lives. Very sensitively, and honestly done. I had my doubts when I knew filming was going to commence, but I am very happy with the outcome.

  • Comment number 24.

    Thanks BBC for this brilliantly poignant and sensitive programme, thoroughly appreciated (unexpected for an animation). Related completely to one counsellee in particular, and ended the programme with tears pouring down.. very cathartic.
    Thanks to the participants for courageously helping bring these often taboo subject matters to the fore, and Zac for challenging societal boundaries in such unique style. Any chance you could publish the "letter" the therapist wrote for Dave? This was particularly touching :)

  • Comment number 25.

    Very moving.Split with my partner 14months ago and still hurting 24/7 only wish we had tried Relate.

  • Comment number 26.

    I am involved in a Relate centre (as a Trustee) and am delighted with this positive depiction of our service - and also pleased to see the positive commentary on this blog.

  • Comment number 27.

    what a wonderful program,

  • Comment number 28.

    Amazing, please more series or programers like this. Animated documentary is a genius idea. Thoroughly enjoyed this programme and looking forward to more series.

  • Comment number 29.

    Congratulations to all involved. This programme was sensitive, humane and intensely moving. The idea of adding animations was inspired and brilliantly done. Well done Zac, the animators, BBC, Relate and all the participants. Wonderful.

  • Comment number 30.

    Great programme as all of the Wonderland programmes seem to be.
    Please what was the music used?

  • Comment number 31.

    A brilliant documentary and beautifully animated. The conclusion of Dave's story brought me and my girlfriend to tears. However, I'm curious about the ethical process you went through to get participants' consent to take part. Can you say a bit more about how you got informed consent from vulnerable people in receipt of counselling? And in terms of anonymity to what extent are the identities of these people hidden behind the documentary? Surely having used their real voices they can be easily recognised. And why did you have to be present to record the sessions? Could it not have been recorded remotely?

  • Comment number 32.

    This program was one very good reason to keep paying the licence fee. The direction, editing and animation were top class. Thanks.

  • Comment number 33.

    I think these programmes have a nod towards "Animated Conversations" that the BBC aired from 1976, so I have copied the text below to credit the original creators:

    Henry Lutman first worked for BBC Bristol in 1976 as a director/animator for the original series of “Animated Conversations” along side animators like Bill Mather, Derek Hayes, David Spoxton & Peter Lord (now known as Aardman). He founded the animation department at the University of Wales Newport and later became Director of Studies of Film & Television there, which also was highly renowned for documentary film production.

  • Comment number 34.

    Very innovative approach that opens a window on what counselling is all about. I would hope it would prompt more people to use Relate. My mother was a 'Marriage Guidance Counsellor' (as it used to be called) when I was a teen and it was free so I grew up knowing what it could offer. Now though, when I would dearly like to use it myself, I simply cannot afford £40 a session - how does Relate maintain its charitable status I wonder? It is only for the well off...

  • Comment number 35.

    What is the name of the beautifully melancholy piano music played at the start please?

  • Comment number 36.

    I came on to the blog to try to find out more about the piano music (?Schubert?) at the beginning. But I watched the programme because I work in the communications team for Home-Start and I was fascinated by this approach to telling people's stories without identifying them. The families we work with have to deal with domestic violence, isolation, disability and much more, and with the very difficult admission that they might not be coping as parents of young children. And our support for them is completely confidential. I did manage about 7 minutes of professional assessment of the programme, but then just got carried away by the people, their stories, and the emotion - all the way to the end. What a wonderful experience. Thank you.

  • Comment number 37.

    Hello I just watched the programme and was very moved by it. It was so beautifully made and sensitively portrayed some obviously very difficult conversations. I think the people who allowed their voices to be used are very brave. I think anyone watching can identify with some part of the programme and I thank you for making it. I will watch it again on IPlayer as I enjoyed it so much. Keep up the good work and thanks again. Superb.

  • Comment number 38.

    Upsetting. Beautiful. Honest.

  • Comment number 39.

    I just want to say well done, and thank you, to everyone involved in making this documentary. It was beautiful - a real masterpiece - with the animation catching all those quiet little movements, and the participants telling such touching and honest stories. The best thing I have seen on TV for a while.

  • Comment number 40.

    The music is a piano reduction of part of the slow movement from Beethoven's Symphony no 7 in A major op 92.

  • Comment number 41.

    I am a counsellor, and I found this really very intelligently and sensitively observed. It was so interesting for me to see the familiar situations played out in such an unusual way...the managing of the boundaries, the reflecting back...and the holding of the client's world. I hope that people who watched it might find counselling is more approachable for them, as the animation had a very normalising feel to it.
    Thank you :)

  • Comment number 42.

    Thank you all so much for the feedback so far, Relate is incredibly proud of the documentary and we're so glad people enjoyed it. Relate was very keen to be involved as we thought it was an excellent opportunity to show people that it's OK to get help for your relationships. We've already seen an increase in calls and visitors to our website as a result, which is fantastic.

    With regards to the comment about pricing, Relate is not-for-profit organisation and our pricing only covers the costs of offering a professional counselling service. But for those that can't afford it, our centres do offer reduced rates. To find out more about the cost of counselling and reductions that are possible, contact your nearest centre www.relate.org.uk/find-your-nearest-service

  • Comment number 43.

    The programme was excellent, very well produced, the animation was inspirational, i found the subject matter very moving and informative. It made me both laugh and cry at the same time.

  • Comment number 44.

    This wonderful piece of work had better be nominated for a BAFTA -or else there will be trouble! It really felt as though we got to know these people along their brief journeys. Joe Carey's editing and the team's production was almost perfect! The animation style Sherbet used looked familiar, almost hand drawn, with JH showing depth and insight through clean direction. Excellent musical composition by Bradley Miles, and clear brilliant sound recording that Fonic blended expertly with the environmental effects for a truly immersive experience. I would love to know a bit more about how this was put together as a production. A very transferable technique that must surely be used to benefit other equally sensitive subjects. Bravo ZB! More BBC...

  • Comment number 45.

    I would rarely think of making a comment about any program but this one moved me to tears and was so wonderfully done that I felt I had to say well done for such a great watch. Thought provoking and moving and the animation was the reason, if we had seen real people it would never have had the same reaction.

    Well done, and thank you.

  • Comment number 46.

    Hey Zac i found a lot of myself in your film and Paul appreciated your comments thanks

  • Comment number 47.

    Amazing programme! Normally I'd shy away from animation, but it worked extremely well in this programme. Thanks so much to the participants and the counsellors! Have to admit I wasn't too happy about Dave's counsellor at his first session but went on to be very impressed through the weeks. I wonder if it's possible to make available the format of the letter Dave's counsellor did for him- it would be quite helpful to me and a many others, I think. Thank you again, BBC and Zac and the team :-)

  • Comment number 48.


  • Comment number 49.

    It’s amazing to read so many posts here! It is really great to have this kind of feedback. Thank you so much to everyone who has posted here.

    I spent two years making this documentary film, but there were times when I wasn’t certain that it was going to work. I am so glad that this experiment has produced something that seems to have engaged some hearts and minds so strongly. It means a great deal to me and the production team and I am sure to the participants, that so many people have felt compelled to post here. Especially people like you diggity64, who say you would never normally post comment. Thank you.

    The BBC will be glad to hear that it felt like the sort of thing that justifies a licence fee, Bazn, Russ_and_Louise!

    I am both glad and sorry that it made some people smile and cry; and that it caused some people to reflect intensely on their own situation. I was heartened that reneesmith007 and Shevabk2milan connected so strongly with participants in the film. I hope in a helpful way.

    It is affirming that both counsellors (Carolyn) and people who have tried counselling (ADJL), recognise it as a realistic portrayal of the experience.

    I was really interested to read that for you, Kirsten and Lina_Kelly, the animation did more than conceal people’s identities and in fact helped you to connect with them. I am still not sure that I fully understand the alchemy or psychology (and it doesn’t always work!) that produces this affect.

    Alison, you were worried that people might be identified after the film, by their voices and snittyboo, you asked about participants giving informed consent. These are very reasonable questions and things we thought about a lot and talked about a lot when the project was conceived. We had to have very honest conversations with potential contributors, up front, about that fact that the animation might give them a degree of anonymity, but that using their real voices, there was a chance they might be recognised, especially by people who know them well. We promised to edit around details like surnames, their children’s names or the places where they lived. And some people felt they didn’t want to take part on these terms, whilst others agreed to take part with this risk in mind. We developed a rigorous protocol with Relate and the BBC to make sure that those who we filmed with were able to give informed consent and to explore issues of vulnerability before proceeding with any recording.

    I can only agree with the likes of Kam, FreeRangeEgg and smithjohannam that the contributors deserve particular praise for sharing their experiences at such a difficult time. And for being brave enough to trust us with their voices.

    I will especially pass on the love and good feeling to Dave. I know that he will be really pleased that by sharing his experience, he may have touched or helped others in some way.

    reneesmith007 and heather, you both asked about us publishing the letter that Dave’s counsellor wrote to him. Unfortunately, we are not able to publish it in full. There were details within the letter that it did not feel appropriate to include in the programme, in order to protect Dave’s identity.

    All of the praise that has been posted for the subtlety and magic of the animation I must pass on to Jonathan Hodgson (the animation director), Jonathan Bairstow (the animation producer) and their amazing team of animators at Sherbet. I know that they were genuinely affected by reading these complimentary posts. They too would agree, Kit_Green, that this film owes a great deal to animated documentaries that have gone before. We studied the “Conversations” series amongst other films as part of our research whilst we were devising this project.

    The first piece of music in the film that you asked about, watcher, is (and I hope I have got this right) is Beethoven’s “Symphony No 7 in a major, Allegretto” performed by Konstantin Scherbakov. Fentonbarns seems to know already.

    So great to hear what people think, so will keep an eye on the posts and happy to post back again.

    Thanks all again for posting again!

  • Comment number 50.

    It really is great to see how the use of animation freed people to speak - and perhaps freed viewers to use their imagination to relate to people's situations?
    Wonder what a psychotherapist would think... might try to get one of our authors, Rosie March-Smith, to comment, as her new book contains the same kind of case study examples of therapy and would appeal to the same audience.

  • Comment number 51.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 52.

    Another brilliant documentary from you Zac. Many congratulations. It was thought-provoking, moving, clever and extremely original. I look forward to the next part and to anything else that you do in the future.

  • Comment number 53.

    This has to be the best thing I have watched in showing what happens in the counselling room. Visually it is superb and is so respectful and moving. I hope we shall see more sessions. It is an invaluable watch for all therapists and people interested in how we relate to one another.

  • Comment number 54.

    Great programme, very engaging and great insight into what happens in the counselling room. Really interesting to hear how some of the interventions helped the clients understand their emotions and behaviour. I'm an Art Psychotherapist and as a profession it is a challenge to increase understanding and demystify counselling and psychotherapy. I wonder if a similar animated documentary about art psychotherapy would be helpful for people who might struggle to talk in therapy? Art Psychotherapy uses a mixture of talking and creativity to help people to express themselves.Your documentary had a very sensitive and human feel to it, Great stuff! One of the best programmes on TV for a long time.

  • Comment number 55.

    Fantastic programme - More please.
    An intelligent & sensitive version of some Reality Programmes - minus the crass ego & vanity of BB. Thanks also for including a single person and not all couples - that surprised me...in a good place.

  • Comment number 56.

    deeply moving and intimate documentary, Dave's story in particular had me in tears more than once. I loved it. Thank you for making this.

  • Comment number 57.

    Hi everyone,

    Zac has already mentioned what the first piece of music played in his film is, as requested by Watcher, but for anybody else who's interested, the full tracklisting for The Trouble With Love And Sex is now available on the show's programme page.

    Assistant Content Producer, BBC TV blog

  • Comment number 58.

    Hi, I just wanted a place to say that this was a wonderful TV programme. I can't thank you enough. You found a sensitive way to show the great skill and kindness of these counsellors. Many thanks to them and to their clients for taking part.

  • Comment number 59.

    watched the documentary 'The Trouble with Love and Sex' the other week, I just wanted to say how impactful I found it. I loved the world that was created through the animation and the way in which it brought to life such a universal story of relevance to us all.

  • Comment number 60.

    I cannot really say much more than has already been said. It was just superb; so moving. It has a similar feel to it as "Belleville Rendez-Vous", I thought, but the detail in the animation brought out the emotion in a way using real actors almost couldn't have. I do hope that this is used as part of schools' sex and relationships curriculum at A-level; although some of the issues deal with adult relationships, we all feel emotion. And perhaps watching this would encourage the younger generation to communicate more in their own relationships as they age, and avoid the mistakes of many today and in the past.

  • Comment number 61.

    Many thanks Zac for your thoughtful & helpful response :) Regarding the publishing of Dave's 'letter' from his therapist, which you mention you're unable to publish in full.. if perhaps you were able to publish some extracts (or even a script of what was aired in the programme) that would be very helpful. I'm currently seeing a pshycho-therapist myself (psycho-dynamic approach, at quite a cost - and sadly not convinced as yet of the benefit being obtained!) for a complcated mix of past and present issues, including many of those experienced by Dave, and would be very grateful to be able to 're-write' my own version of the letter, and perhaps show it to my own therapist.
    Sorry if this sounds a little dramatic, but in that dark tunnel of aloneness and hopelessness, it's little things like these that can help enormously, even if only to help keep putting one foot in front of the other. And completely understand if it's not possible. Thanks :)


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