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Maryland on ITV review: Suranne Jones and Eve Best excel in this honest portrayal of sisterhood and grief

Eve Best, left, and Suranne Jones in Maryland (ITV)
Eve Best, left, and Suranne Jones in Maryland (ITV)

As any woman fortunate enough to be blessed with a sister will tell you, no one can argue with you like that bitch can.

When estranged sisters Rosaline and Becca’s brewing tension finally overflows into an all-out, spittle-flecked shouting match in the second episode of Maryland, it’s hard not wince in recognition as they tear chunks out of each other in that special way that only sisters can.

It is also true, that no one knows you like your sister, and it is this dynamic that the three-part ITV drama explores.

The brainchild of BAFTA-winning Suranne Jones and Anne-Marie O’Connor, the series meets sisters Becca (Jones) and Rosaline (Eve Best), whose lives are straying ever further apart. That is until the shocking discovery of their septuagenarian mother’s body on the Isle of Man forces them to reunite.

Suranne Jones and Andrew Knott in Maryland (ITV)
Suranne Jones and Andrew Knott in Maryland (ITV)

Ros is high-powered, career-focused and childfree – we first meet her sitting in a hospital bed on a work Zoom call, from which she then flits to a rendez-vous with a younger co-worker with whom she’s having an affair.

Becca, on the other hand, is consumed by the stresses of managing two teenage children and a husband Jim (Andrew Knott) who seems to be the Final Boss of weaponised incompetence.

Arriving on an island they’ve never visited, and no idea why their mother was there, the pair begin to uncover the long-held and convoluted secrets their mother was hiding. Like many children, they never thought to question whether their parents were happily married, or ask about the regular caravan holidays to Wales their mother apparently took with her friend Maureen.

Wales, it soon becomes clear, was a cover for their mother’s double-life on the rugged coast of the Isle of Man. There, she was a writer, a friend and a lover – much to the sisters’ shock. “Who the f*** was she?”, murmurs a bewildered Becca as the pair rummage through their mother’s secret island home.

While Maryland manages to juggle themes of grief, motherhood, suicide and illness in its three short hours, it is the exploration of the deep wounds of sisterhood that takes centre stage. Becca and Ros’s almost acquaintance-like relationship in the first episode gives way as old scars, resentment and secrets resurface, as does a profound and forgotten love between them.

Stockard Channing in Maryland (ITV)
Stockard Channing in Maryland (ITV)

As they learn more about their mother, so too do they learn about each other – Becca’s fear of falling into the same trap and becoming “invisible”, locked in a stagnating marriage, Ros’s secret health scares, and the sacrifices they have both silently made for one another.

But it is here that the show falters slightly. As soon as any questions arise surrounding their mother’s death, they are answered almost immediately – sometimes literally seconds later – leaving an unsatisfying absence of tension or prolonged question marks over the characters’ motivations. Why was she on the island, was she having an affair, the integrity of her friends – all are teased as tantalising mysteries, but quickly become open and shut cases.

Where Maryland does excel is in the ease and accuracy with which it explores the underbelly of family relationships. Jones and Best excel in toeing the nuances of the dysfunctional tightrope of sisterhood – their chemistry is easy, and their bickering and rage feel comfortingly familiar.

Another standout performance comes from Stockard Channing (Cathy), best known for playing Rizzo in Grease. Perhaps an unexpected face in the long puffer coats and windswept cliff face aesthetics of a British drama, she manages to sustain a level of ambiguity to Cathy, never tempted to over-act the more high-octane moments, adding a layer of intrigue to the proceedings.

Maryland might not be Agatha Christie, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more sensitive and honest portrayal of sisterhood, grief and family. So, while it doesn’t quite chill the blood, it certainly warms the heart.

Maryland is on ITVX and ITV1 from Monday 22 May