Flowers is a Channel 4 black comedy that follows the Flowers family. We are introduced to Maurice when he tries to hang himself but fails to. He is the writer of a successful children’s book series, The Grubbs, and can’t seem to muster a new story in the depths of his depression. His wife Deborah gets more and more frustrated that she can’t seem to reach out to him and stops trying altogether. Their twin children are both socially inept and both pining for the same girl – their neighbour. And just as much a part of their family is Shun, Maurice’s Japanese illustrator, who lives in the cramped writing shack near the Flowers’ house.
While an attempted suicide is the catalyst for the events in Flowers, how things unfold form there is hilarious and tragic in equal measure. Hattie, Maurice’s demented mother, witnesses his failed hanging, and retrieves the rope. While she is attempting to put the rope back in the attic, she falls from a chair and dies. Maurice explains away the noose by saying that his mother was obviously trying to hang herself (and Hattie was conveniently standing on a chair to put the rope away). So begins a series of miscommunications that lead the family further and further into the dark depths of dysfunction and despair.
Flowers really explores the feelings that surface when someone suffers from a mental illness. A lot of Maurice’s thoughts are conveyed through small rhymes that open and close each episode, but most of the time he is stifled by his own inability to communicate what he is feeling. It’s quickly clear to us just how hard it is for him to tell someone, anyone, that he’s struggling. I think to an extent we can all relate to that, though those with a mental illness will obviously be able to empathise to a far greater extent. On the flipside, there are other characters who experience the feelings of people who are close to sufferers of mental illness. Deborah contemplates divorce countless times, unsure of being dragged into depression alongside Maurice. Even their builder, Barry, lost his wife to suicide. In a mad state, he threatens Maurice with a knife in a ridiculous and tickling scene, only to blindside us:
“This is what you leave behind when you go.”
– Barry, Flowers
One of the standout scenes for me was watching Shun pitch ideas to Maurice’s agents to try and save Maurice’s career. His final piece is an illustrated comic of why The Grubbs is so important to him, and how it saved his life when he lost his entire family in an earthquake. The music that accompanies Shun’s narration is really sad, and your heart really hurts for him, despite knowing that ultimately the agents are obviously going to reject Maurice anyway – that’s the nature of Flowers. It tugs at your heartstrings just enough to draw a response, and then it makes you giggle uncontrollably.
In six short episodes, Flowers packs a whole heap of character development and subplot. The cinematography is often artisticically surrealist; it reminded me of NBC’s Hannibal in places. Throughout the series, it’s difficult to escape the funk that it begins on. Triumphant moments, like Amy learning to ride a bike, are marred by absurd events, like her getting struck by lightning, immediately afterwards. The story keeps us in a a state of pervading sadness, while the dialogue keeps us laughing loudly and shamelessly. Caught between these two opposing extremes, Flowers then ends quickly, on a very gentle and optimistic note. Watching Amy and Maurice pretend to use Donald’s childhood invention, two hats connected by a string that transfers happiness, is a wonderful way of seeing that love and honesty are what nourish our relationships when they are challenged.