Don’t Mention the Cricket: The Underrated Brilliance of Outside Edge
Ah, ’tis the season: if you’re British, like mine fine self-ine, you’ll be cracking out the box-sets and settling down in a haze of fizzy faux-booze and mince pies and suchlike to inject some comedy charm straight into your needy veins.
And look, I’m sure you’ve already done some of the classics – Fawlty Towers, Father Ted, Black Books, etc, etc, ad inifinitum. You’re looking for something…new. Something fresh. Something that slides in some commentary on the futility of gender roles and the emancipation of the British woman from her wifely duty. Something with…with cricket.
Enter Outside Edge (1994-96), one of the most bizarrely overlooked British black comedies of the 90s – based on a play by Richard Harris and following the exploits of a small amateur cricketing club in the South of England, Outside Edge is the sort of thing you’d write off as a dawdlingly gentle and dated com; all Brenda Blethyn in aprons and wickety cricket banter. But I’m here to make a case for Outside Edge being one of the best British shows of the nineties – even if you are as pointedly cricket-illiterate as I am.
Robert Daws and Brenda Blethyn are our central leads, a middle-class and very classic British married couple; Roger, the husband, is the captain of a local cricket team which he takes very seriously, almost as seriously, in fact, as he takes the notion of projecting the idea that he has a perfect marriage and perfectly subservient wife. Uptight and committed to a classic state of masculinity whose main emotional range is “annoyance” to “idiot anger”, he’s the scene setter for Blethyn’s brilliant, beaten-down Miriam, an exhausted wife on the edge who isn’t even really aware that she’s on the edge yet.
Enter Kevin (Timothy Spall) and Maggie (Josie Lawrence); members of Roger’s cricket team, they’re everything that Miriam and Roger aren’t. He cooks, flirts, listens to classical music, wears dresses – she does DIY and fixes cars and swaggers around shouting about how she could just eat him all up. They have utterly rejected the traditional gender roles that were assigned to them (and oh, in the process, probably built one of the TV couples with the most believable and passionate and adorable chemistry that I’ve ever seen – watching Lawrence sweep the tiny Spall up in her fur coats is the definition of romance, and you’ll never convince me otherwise) – and they are actually happy. And actually love each other. And when Miriam comes to see this, questions about her own life and relationship begin to arise – questions to which there are no easy answers.
Pin-sharp writing and the ice-cold brutality of British good manners deliver on the comedy side of Outside Edge, but it’s Miriam’s superb break for freedom that really makes Outside Edge such an enduring classic for me. Brenda Blethyn was her from that for me for a long time, but after this, she was her from this: it’s a stunning, restrained, and totally brilliant performance, impossible not to root for against the gruelling odds of her upbringing, the society around her, and her quietly, totally awful husband.
Cricket fan or not, Outside Edge is cutting, hilarious, touching, and a little devastating all at once. When it comes to festive baked-goods viewing – or really, just any time you need a warm, witty, and wonderful British comedy – what more could you want?
(header image via British Comedy Guide)