Gold Digger review – the twisty toyboy thriller that will get everyone talking
As someone who lived through this seminal moment in human history, I can confidently state that the simplicity to febrile conversational avenues ratio attained by the premise of Indecent Proposal in 1993 – what would you do if multimillionaire Robert Redford offered you $1m to sleep with your wife – will never be equalled.
But Gold Digger (BBC One) is a bold and hugely entertaining attempt by writer Marnie Dickens. It asks how you would react if your 60-year-old mother/ex-wife/friend became involved with a man nearly 30 years her junior – or how you would react if a man nearly half your age came on to you. And, of course, poses the wider question of how society views female sexuality versus men’s as they move through life, and how brutal it can be. There is something for everyone here, my friends.
Related: Gold Digger: the shocking drama busting taboos about older women and sex
Julia Day (Julia Ormond, and please, while we’re here, why don’t we see more of Ormond? She is so good everywhere and brilliantly believable in this) falls into conversation with Benjamin (Ben Barnes) during a visit to the British Museum after a planned 60th birthday celebration that all three of her children failed to attend. Her husband, Tom (Alex Jennings), ran off with her best friend, Marsha (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a while ago and she is altogether at a low ebb. She and Benjamin get chatting, he asks her to go for a drink, an affair begins that evolves into a relationship and, a year later, a wedding is being prepared.
Well? What would you have done? Been secretly flattered, laughed it off, but gone about the rest of your day with a lighter step? Been instantly defensive and sent him away with a flea in his young ear? Or confidently accepted it as your due? Whatever the answer, you are unlikely not to be hooked for the rest of the series. There is nothing more compelling than dramas in which every scene delivers the story and a new Rorschach test at the same time.
And if you were one of her three children presented with him at dinner a few short months later, how would you react?
Her sons Patrick (Sebastian Armesto) and Leo (Archie Renaux) are instantly appalled, and suspicious of his motives. Their mother is a rich woman and Benjamin is a copywriter who, in all fairness to the boys, appears to do very little copywriting. And they do love and want to protect her; they have all but stopped speaking to their father after his betrayal and Patrick especially understands how much she has been hurt. This is also partly why he is manfully trying to resist having an affair with a colleague while his newborn baby is turning his life upside down at home.
Julia’s daughter Della (Jemima Rooper) is relatively sanguine about the relationship, noting that her mother seems happy for the first time since Tom left (and possibly reasoning that if cashing in a few ISAs was the price of being with a thirtysomething with Benjamin’s lean muscle/body fat percentage it is money well spent – though I may be projecting. But that is half the fun of watching any drama in which sexual politics swirl so potently).
Benjamin appears almost to revel in the family’s discomfort. Whether this means he is truly the wrong ’un they fear him to be, only the next five weeks will make clear. The first scenes in this opening episode are of a distraught Julia muddying her wedding dress as she runs for her car before driving off in haste. But surely the obvious inference is too obvious, no? Then we must factor in the chances of a drama having been written and commissioned that ends in the humiliation of an older woman by a younger lover, instead of fighting the good fight for a cultural shift that no longer pushes anyone over the age of 35 out of the sexual (televisual) arena.
However, Gold Digger works beautifully as a soapy drama that promises to be full of twists and turns but emotional and psychological substance too. Jennings surely has much more to show us with Tom (otherwise, y’know, you don’t get Jennings) and Ormond grounds the whole thing in truth. If it turns out that their relationship is real and Benjamin on the side of the angels, it will work. If the rippling ambiguities send things another way, that will be wholly earned too.
I would give myself up to it body and soul if I could just stop worrying about the stress it must have caused the casting directors. It’s bad enough when you just have to find and pair actors viewers will believe are having sex without age gaps, possibly nefarious intentions and assorted other curveballs being lobbed in. But you did brilliantly. We all look forward to next week and many chats round the water cooler before then.