Did no one think to cast standup Bridget Christie in the upcoming Barbie movie? If it’s true, as Christie asserts, that “The Hulk is the only menopausal role model in the history of TV and film”, then having Christie play Menopausal Barbie alongside Issa Rae as President Barbie and Nicola Coughlan as Diplomat Barbie in Greta Gerwig’s panorama of modern womanhood might have helped. As it is, she’s had to do it all herself. As usual. Christie writes and stars in The Change – her sitcom debut – as Linda, a much put-upon wife, mother and retail worker who reaches a crisis point at her 50th birthday party.
It’s not just the menopause. It’s also the cluelessness of her husband (Omid Djalili), the open disdain of her teenage children and society’s general denial of the full humanity of older women that pushes Linda over the edge. She determines to take back some of those 3.5 million minutes of domestic drudgery (she’s been keeping careful record) and heads off on an adventure of self-discovery. She looks pretty cool doing it too, astride her Triumph motorcycle, amid the mystical ancient woodlands of the Forest of Dean, in search of a time capsule she hid there as a 10-year-old. Thus, by the first commercial break of the first episode, The Change has already succeeded in its primary goal: Linda is the role model we’ve all been waiting for. Hot flushes never looked hotter.
She soon pulls up in a clearing, where The Eel Cafe (“Proudly serving eels and mash to men since 1850”) is run by the wary-of-outsiders Eel Sisters (Monica Dolan and Susan Lynch). They impress on her their connection to the land (“See this earth, we were born on it … by those bins over there”) and reluctantly rent her the filthy, broken-down caravan in which their “feythur” recently carked it. This means “father” in the Forester dialect and, if you hope to follow the plot, shouldn’t be confused with The Verderer (Jim Howick from Ghosts), angry local radio DJ and self-appointed woodland guardian, who is another of the eccentrics Linda encounters. There’s also the ruggedly handsome Pig Man (Jerome Flynn), pub lothario Tony (Paul Whitehouse) and Joy (Motherland’s Tanya Moodie) a calm, centred presence who becomes Linda’s guide to the strange ways of the village traditionalists.
It’s The Vicar of Dibley in biker leathers, essentially; this story of a lone middle-aged woman shaking things up in a tight-knit rural community, but further enhanced by the folky feminism that runs through Gloucester-born Christie’s comedy like the River Severn. The feminism bit, at least, has been evident since her 2013 breakthrough with her Edinburgh comedy award-winning standup show, A Bic for Her, and 2015 memoir-manifesto Book For Her, but fans of the excellent lockdown-era Radio 4 series, Mortal, will also know of Christie’s fascination with pagan rituals and natural world rhythms.
All this has been translated into an attractive televisual aesthetic by director Al Campbell (still probably best known as Barry Shitpeas from Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, despite his many TV comedy directing credits). It’s sun-dappled woodland clearings, the peaceful companionship of a half-empty pub, and a wistful folk music soundtrack – like a less blokey Detectorists. But while that beloved BBC show was content to meander towards some sense of meaning, The Change strides purposefully towards its culmination, in a revamped, gender-balanced version of the village’s annual festival. Linda features centrally in this, of course, in a series of sensational outfits (we’re calling it Sheela-na-gig chic), while delivering speeches on the stages of womanhood that are genuinely affecting.
There’s stuff here that we rarely see on TV. Linda’s relationship with her furiously self-denying, righteously judgmental older sister (Liza Tarbuck) offers insight into a larger rift in feminism and might have benefitted from more narrative space to breathe. But Christie, via “Linda”, has so much more to say – about pigs and trees, single-sex spaces and blackface morris dancing – that with only six, 25-minute episodes to say it in, the show’s pacing can feel a little panicked, and its resolutions a little pat. (If only all small-minded bigots were as amenable to reasoning as the ones Linda encounters!) Ideally she’d have extended her summer stay in that grimy caravan for a week or two longer. It would have been nice to linger a while.
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