Saturday Streaming: “What is Benjamin hiding in BBC1’s new thriller Gold Digger?”

PUBLISHED: 20:04 16 November 2019

Julia Day (JULIA ORMOND), Benjamin (BEN BARNES) - (C) Mainstreet Pictures Picture: Mike Hogan

Julia Day (JULIA ORMOND), Benjamin (BEN BARNES) - (C) Mainstreet Pictures Picture: Mike Hogan

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The genre-bending age gap drama landed on our screens on November 12…and we’ve already binged our way through all six episodes.

What did I make of it? Let's start with the premise.

Julia (Julia Ormond) is a 59-year-old mama and grannie who's still got it going on. I mean, come on how amazing is her lioness-like mane of hair? She's uprooted herself to the Big Smoke for a weekend to celebrate the 'big 6-0', bunkering down in a glamorous hotel. But, alas, her three grown-up kids bail on her at the last minute. What's a girl to do? Well, pull on a coat, flick that hair and set out to explore of course.

Ending up at the British Museum, while pondering a display with a missing exhibit, she's approached by a rather dashing chap, Benjamin. Not Ben (but played by Prince Caspian Ben Barnes). Fascinated by her knowledge and historic prowess, mystery man (who incidentally has the darkest eyes I've ever seen) invites Julia for a drink.

What to do? Be flattered and say 'er no thanks you're alright?' escaping with one's dignity intact, but with a little flutter of excitement. Write him off as a weirdo? Or believe, because this is the 21st century, that if it's OK for older men to be attracted to younger women, surely the shoe can fit on the other foot?

Julia picks the latter and, despite being ID'd in a bar as designer-geared copywriter Ben's mother, holds her nerve….and her head up high.

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If nothing else, this drama/rom-com has given us all something to talk about when it comes to relationships and our perception of them. If a 60-year-old man rocks up in a bar with a 35-year-old beauty hanging off his arm no one bats an eyelid do they? But a 60-year-old woman with a man approaching 40? That scenario is almost pitch-perfectly played out and disected across the series. How could she possibly kid herself that she's attractive enough to lure a younger man? As her children point out, Ben must only want Julia for her money (thanks kids). Isn't she embarrassed to be seen in public with someone her family consider a man-child?

I think the Beeb have done this rather well. Ben is somewhat of a wet blanket at times, and I found myself rolling my eyes at his pleas and almost misanthropic behaviour. But the story itself was rather compelling, showing the struggles the dynamic of an older woman with a younger man might face. Women are more innately the nurturers in our families. And it was interesting to see Julia flick between being the wild sex-crazed siren she wanted to appear to be, and mother mode - admonishing Ben for bad behaviour, and all too easily forgiving him, mopping his brow and patting his back in displays usually the reserve of a mother's unconditional love.

As well as the omnipresent Ben, who appears to be hiding something, Gold Digger lays out complex characters around our protagonists. Julia's children. A gay daughter struggling to find her place in the world. An angsty son torn between his parents. And an older son, finding his 2.4 family life stifling. All three of them share Julia's flashbacks to an unspoken traumatic event in their past.

Add to the party Ted (Alex Jennings), Julia's possessive newly ex-husband, who had an affair with her ex-best friend (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and you've almost got all the elements for a South American telenovela.

Episode one opens with Julia fleeing her house in a wedding dress? Was there a wedding? What was Ben hiding? Will she ever find the happiness she's been denied throughout decades of marriage? Watch away and find out!

Gold Digger is on every Tuesday evening at 9pm. Or stream all six episodes now on BBC iPlayer.

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