Truth is often stranger than fiction. That certainly proved to be the case for the family of actress Ruth Wilson. Mrs. Wilson is based on her grandmother Alison’s marriage to the enigmatic British spy and author Alexander Wilson. What makes Mrs. Wilson so extraordinary is that Ruth Wilson actually plays the role of her own grandmother Alison in this gripping miniseries.
MRS. WILSON: WHAT IT”S ABOUT
After twenty years of wedded bliss and two children, Alec unexpectedly dies in Alison’s arms. Alison is devastated by his death. She goes through the motions of comforting her sons and planning Alec’s funeral. That is until she receives another unexpected shock. An older woman arrives on her doorstep to collect Alec’s belongings. She claims to be Mrs. Wilson.
Seeking answers, Alison tracks down Alec’s MI5 intelligence handler Coleman. Alison is adamant that Alec was divorced from the first Mrs. Wilson before marrying her. Coleman is not so sure. Consequently, this leads Alison to question everything she ever knew about their life together. Not only does she explore her own memories of her past with Alec, but she also begins her own investigation into Alec’s private and professional life. She is stymied at every turn by an agency who wants to keep Alec’s work secret. Nor does she receive any help from those who knew Alec personally. As she slowly uncovers her husband’s secrets, she discovers a man she barely knew.
MRS. WILSON REVIEW
What an absolutely riveting mystery this is! The fact that the unknown revolves around identity and not a crime, makes this Mrs. Wilson rather unique. From the opening scenes, the audience is immediately plunged into a world of shifting shadows alongside Alison Wilson as she pursues the truth about her husband.
The secrets of Alec Wilson’s life simultaneously deepen and unravel throughout the three episodes. Every time Alison believes she has discovered the truth, she is confronted with a new perspective which throws everything into doubt again. Part of the problem is that she obtains information second hand from people who knew Alec. Their memories and stories are tainted by their own motives and viewpoints. Therefore, when measured up against the questionable details her husband has given her, it is almost impossible to distinguish fact from fiction. It’s this continuing uncertainty which kept me utterly engrossed.
Fortunately, this mystery is anchored by one reliable narrator in Alison Wilson. While the plot focuses on her investigation of her husband’s life, the real revelation is in the viewers understanding of Alison herself. In flashbacks, we see important moments in Alison’s relationship with Alec which give a better comprehension of her character and nature. These glimpses make her present-day discoveries all the more devastating.
Skilled character representations by an outstanding cast enhance the whole production. Portraying a real historical person has its’ own challenges that a fictional character does not. Actors must give an honest presentation of that person while also maintaining a level of dramatic performance not necessarily inherent in real life scenarios. It is a pleasure to see familiar faces like Patrick Kennedy, Keeley Hawes and Fiona Shaw in supporting roles. But beyond that, their talent makes their characters feel real and relatable.
In the role of Alec Wilson, Iain Glen deftly balances the tightrope of a character with ample charm and flaws. He makes Alec a sympathetic and very human individual. At the same time, his lies and actions are detestable. He is completely ambiguous. Is he the man Alison believes him to be? Or is he someone else? Even as revelations continue to stack up, it is still hard to see him as anything other than a loving father and husband.
However, Mrs.Wilson is absolutely Ruth Wilson’s show. Not only is she the star, but she also executive produces this very personal family story. It is a tour de force performance on her part. Viewers see everything that happens through her eyes. This adds to the feeling of uncertainty because she is the one trustworthy character. But her love for Alec influences her perception and understanding of him. In spite of it all, she stubbornly insists that he loved her and their children.
Ruth Wilson plays Alison as controlled and restrained. One can only admire Alison’s strength as she navigates these discoveries all alone. Yet one can feel the emotional turmoil just boiling under the surface which occasionally erupts. It’s simply stunning.
Mrs. Wilson is an excellent addition to the Masterpiece’s library of period mysteries and dramas. Its’ exploration of identity and love are well blended with the intense drama of the story. Realistic historical settings combined with excellent character portrayals add to the credibility of a fantastic real-life story (even if understandably fictionalized). Fans of period dramas and historical mysteries should love this unique miniseries.
Content Note: This series handles adult themes, particularly bigamy. There are also a few scenes of partial nudity, so I would give this a TV-14 rating.
Where to Watch: Buy on Amazon and iTunes. You can also catch Mrs. Wilson on PBS Passport.
Have you seen Mrs. Wilson? Do you know of any other real-life mysteries that were adapted for the screen?
Photo Credit: Photos Courtesy of WP Films Ltd. – Photographer: Steffan Hill
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