Dolly Alderton is adapting her love memories from 2018 into a new BBC One drama that won’t be for everyone – but probably shouldn’t be either
“You think having fun is easy because it’s easy for you,” Birdy (Bel Powley) tells her lifelong best friend Maggie (Emma Appleton), trying to cheer her up at the end of a night, “but having fun is oh well easy! You’re someone who really likes to swim naked, wear bandanas, play snooker in the pub, and coat everything with hot sauce. This is something special.”
How patient you are with All I Know About Love — a loose adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s 2017 memoir of the same name, which Alderton is also writing and producing — probably depends on your reaction to those lines. is so special? Is it a celebration of finding joy in the ordinary, or does it speak to a very narrow collection of experiences—if so, is it knowingly so? There’s a feeling that everything I know about love might be the main character syndrome: the series is, with all the pitfalls and downsides that that entails; it So captures such a special mood that, accurate or not, it is sometimes difficult to look at.
The year is 2012. Maggie and Birdy have just graduated and are moving into their first home, a flat share with college friends Nell (Marli Siu) and Amara (Aliyah Oddofin). They’ve been looking forward to this for years, and the excitement is palpable: they’re best friends, the four of them, but especially Maggie and Birdy. In the end, everything Maggie knows about love wasn’t learned from brief flirts and one-night stands, but rather from her friendship with Birdy. She’s learned that from 2am makeovers and dinners together and MSN nostalgia, from comforting each other when they’re sad and celebrating together when they’re happy, from always being the first person the who calls the other no matter what.
At least until Birdy meets Nathan (Ryan Brown) and begins her first romantic relationship as an adult. All of a sudden, Birdy has one foot on the doorstep of her new life before it even really begins. It’s a series about love, and it’s a series about a painful, drawn-out breakup, but not a romantic one — it’s about how lifelong best friends fall in love, how it can get too difficult even to be in the same room with someone who just a few months ago was the most important person in your life for a decade.
There’s a lot about the series that feels incisive. For much of its running time, it’s a strikingly accurate portrait of selfishness, rendered with genuine subtlety and insight: Maggie is willfully, fantastically self-centered, while at the same time lightly dismissing and clearly threatening Birdy’s relationship. All I know about love is an in-depth interrogation of Maggie’s – but pretty much everyone’s – worst instinct when confronted with change. She is competitive and makes her own less-than-serious declarations of love; she is manipulative and subtly tries to undo them; she is obsessive and keeps track of how much hot water Nathan uses when he visits her; She is desperately lonely and completely refuses to share this with herself or anyone else.
Emma Appleton is notable here. They all are, really – Bel Powley is absolutely perfect as the formerly shy friend who finds newfound confidence, and you’ll keep wishing the series had found more to spend with Marli Siu and Aliyah Oddofin, both of whom are nothing fewer than one are gift – but it’s still Appleton’s series first and foremost. She plays the loosely fictionalized version of Alderton, and this portrait of selfishness is held together by Appleton; There’s little concession to any sort of “main characters have to be likable” mentality, from the way Maggie treats her friends to the earnest insistence that her problems stem from her parents’ ” to be over-loved,” and Appleton more than lives up to the challenge, tempering that reluctance to evoke quality and genuine liking.
In a way, this brings us back to where we started. All I know about love, if nothing else, is entirely itself: There’s a purity of vision and a consistent worldview that’s confident, unapologetic, and to some will be deeply repugnant. It’s nostalgic for yesterday’s loves and losses, but ultimately it’s still the nostalgia of a Sunday Times columnist who attended a number of private schools. An unflattering portrayal of your own flaws — even a fictionalized version of it — isn’t self-deprecating, it’s self-aggrandizing, and at its most indulgent, All I Know About Love can be overwhelming.
A scene in which Amara calls out to Maggie for everyday microaggressions feels specifically written as an opportunity for later self-adulation, and the inclusion of a single chaste kiss with a woman amid a montage of Maggie’s wild life begs the question if that’s the case only discontinued in 2012 or also manufactured in 2012. That definition of fun mentioned above – bandanas, snooker, hot sauce – leads to “maybe the cost of being so special always gets overstated,” and the way Maggie soars through life speaks to a privilege that the series isn’t as self-aware about as it’s clearly imagining.
Anyway, all of this means that there are parts of Everything I Know About Love that are best watched with your eyes rolled out. With that caveat, though, much of it is commendable: Appleton, Powley, Siu, and Oddofin have happy chemistry together, and it’s really heartening to see a platonic breakup being treated with the same weight that’s typically given to romantic relationships. The sixth and seventh episodes – a confrontation between the group and their aftermath – are tremendous achievements for a screenwriter, and the final image in the series is encouraging. Otherwise, however, “Everything I know about love” will, cannot and does not have to be for everyone.
‘Everything I Know About Love’ starts Tuesday 7 June at 10:40pm on BBC One, with each episode available to stream as a box set on iPlayer. I watched all 7 episodes before writing this review.