TV review: Love, Nina
True fish-out-of-water tale bent out of shape by Nick Hornby’s laugh and tear-free adaptation
The weird tale of Leicester City’s season just keeps getting weirder. In an early sequence of the 80s-set Love, Nina, the central character is being interviewed for a nanny position by the two boys she’ll be looking after. Over the course of a minute, the West Ham and Arsenal-supporting brothers destroy the reputation of the ‘rubbish’ Leicester. Given that Nick Hornby wrote this TV screenplay well before the Midlands club decided not to be relegation candidates this season and, against all odds, actually win the English Premier League, this turns out be a rare moment of stunning prescience in a five-part comedy-ish / drama that fails to move the soul in any discernible way.
Based on Nina Stibbe’s bestselling memoir about her time as the 20-year-old nanny to the children of divorced director Stephen Frears and London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay Wilmers. Hornby does the standard adaptation job of playing fast and loose with certain details. Wilmers becomes Georgia (Helena Bonham Carter) while the biggest recurring literary name in the memoir, Alan Bennett, is replaced by ‘Malcolm Tanner’, a Scottish poet played with an almost Presbyterian air by Jason Watkins.
Even the boys’ names are changed with Will and Sam becoming Max and Joe, though at least Sam / Joe’s illness remains: Riley-Day syndrome, a rare condition which affects the nervous system’s development. You’d have thought that the poor lad’s situation would engender some raw emotion but in the course of this two and a half hours, one apparent medical emergency fizzles out into false alarm with no mention of it again. In one delightful bit of casting, Sam Frears shows up as the wheelchair-bound Ray whose carer Nunney (Joshua McGuire) has a thing for Nina (a thing which will later turned into marriage in real life).
Faye Marsay’s Nina is a rather tame displaced character whose tendency for wandering around barefoot almost everywhere is never explained and the way in which each episode closes is almost unbearably twee: a voiceover narrating letters to her sister Victoria ends with ‘love, Nina’.
We’re well used to sections of Nick Hornby’s writing erring towards the side of cloying, but even in the likes of About a Boy, a warm, humane heart was still beating away. This is as cold as a fish out of water.
Love, Nina starts on BBC One, Fri 20 May, 9.30pm