Class, masculine competition, buried pasts and father-daughter dynamics make up a luridly dark arrangement in the three-part UK miniseries “Bouquet of Barbed Wire,” the first episode of which airs on Ovation this Saturday, July 21 at 10m ET/7pm PT.
The second TV adaptation of the 1969 novel of the same name by Andrea Newman — the first, which ran in 1976, was considered notoriously risque — this “Bouquet of Barbed Wire” startles more with its characterization than any content. The Ashley Pearce-directed show is a warped, Freudian hallucination about baby’s first boyfriend in which Prue (Imogen Poots), the adored 17-year-old only child of well-to-do parents Peter (Trevor Eve) and Cassie Manson (Hermione Norris), brings home exactly the wrong boyfriend her dad would want paired with his coddled offspring.
Then again, it’s possible that no one could meet Peter’s standards for his daughter — the series introduces the pair’s relationship as almost flirtily close. Peter’s entranced by his beautiful no-longer-so-little girl, who accompanies him to a business function in the place of his wife when the latter is trapped at work, stealing sips of his wine and luring him away from networking to go bowling in their formalwear after an hour. Prue sends her father text messages saying “Daddy can u meet? I’ve been SINFUL” when she skips school, and deflects when he asks if she dating anyone.
But she is dating someone, who she introduces to her family at a doozy of a dinner. Gavin Sorenson (Tom Riley) is her English teacher, a contemptuous, aggressively working-class older man who seems to already know something about Peter — or is that just Peter’s paranoid projection on him? Gavin mocks Peter’s talk of Prue going to college as just “aspirational fantasies of her dear old dad” — because, he reveals in something like spiteful triumph, he’s gotten Prue pregnant, and she’s going to leave school to come live with him in his shabby tower block in Hackney.
“Bouquet of Barbed Wire” is a nasty, mesmerizing melodrama about the misdeeds in Peter’s past coming back to haunt him, but it’s the troubling relationship between him and his daughter that forms the heart of the series, as he sees himself involved in a rivalry to possess her (something neither he nor Gavin really have her permission to do).
The series also interestingly hints that as much as Peter wants to see his child as a pawn in and victim of his feud with Gavin, the overindulged Prue is as entranced with the idea of immolating her own future by clinging to her openly contemptuous beau as Peter is horrified by it, and that a part of her takes pleasure in abruptly rejecting her father and his smothering affections. With side affairs and other acts of calculated cruelty, “Bouquet of Barbed Wire” presents a bitter view of the world, but one from which it’s hard to look away.