What would you do if you lost an entire year of your family life?
That’s the question at the heart of Channel 4's new psychological drama Close To Me, starring Connie Nielsen (Wonder Woman) and Christopher Eccleston (The A Word, Doctor Who) as a middle-aged, middle-class, middle Britain couple whose family life is torn apart by a brain injury.
When busy mum Jo wakes up at the bottom of the stairs in a pool of blood, she begins a shocking journey that sees her lose a year of her memory and has to work with her friends and family to put together a mysterious series of events that she has no idea how to explain. Coinciding with her menopause, the show looks at the issue and how it effects identity and self.
For Wonder Woman and Nobody star Nielsen, it was an intriguing hook that had her from the beginning.
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She said: “Jo was this character where you thought you knew what type of person she was – married, kids, happy – then because of her brain injury, she becomes completely unpredictable. As an actor that’s a godsend, when you realise you can go into all these different characterisations, full of humour and imagination.
”There’s a lot of interest in identity these days: how do we know who we are? In that sense, Jo has temporary brain trauma and she’s mirrored by her father, who has dementia: two people hanging onto straws and the truth won't let them be.
“She's tracking these leads, she is a detective in her own life, which is so interesting. Where do you go next? What does this information mean about my life? Every time you think you know, you don't.”
While former Doctor Who and Leftovers star Eccleston was delighted to play a literal supporting role.
He said: “His role is to try and aid his life partner in a physical and emotional recovery, but also support her going through menopause. Jo is having identity issues which are, according to my female friends, very common in late middle age, where you wake up thinking: who am I?”
He continued: “Control is definitely an issue and that causes tension with his wife, their friends and the children.
“If there was a sense of the emasculation, pre-accident, perhaps it’s an opportunity, dysfunctionally, for him to reassert traditional masculine/feminine roles.”
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The six-part series is based on Amanda Reynolds’s 2017 bestselling novel of the same name, and has been a passion project for Danish-born actress Nielsen, who also serves as executive producer for the first time.
She said: “I’ve been involved in script meetings, production decisions, hiring the director It’s been wonderful to really have a say, but it wasn’t about power, but about continuing to create consensus around what story are we telling and why.
”As a female actor and a feminist, at times I do find it difficult to shed light on human existence through the roles traditionally available to female actors.
“With this, I made sure the intentions of the author of the book were reflected in it – the story of a woman going through menopause. It was incredibly important to me that we shed light on this important rite of passage for women.
"We needed to render visible people who basically become invisible during a time when they truly need society, family and friends.”
Close to Me premieres at 9pm, Sunday 7 November, on Channel 4.
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