This true story begins when Alexander “Alec” Wilson, Alison’s long-time husband, dies of a sudden heart attack in their home. Bereft, Alison is now looking at a future of raising two sons with very little money. The shocker comes when there’s a knock on the door and an elderly woman announces that she is Alec’s wife and would like to transport his body to the family burial plot. Alison is now determined to find out more about Alec’s background. What she uncovers is heart-wrenching. Alec told Alison that as a secret British spy he has to live on the edge. But Alison eventually learns that Alec’s life was full of lies. Alec had no money, he was not a super spy, and the country estate he supposedly owned was one big fantasy. He had multiple wives (never divorcing any of them) and multiple sets of children. Surprisingly, Coleman, a government official where Alison worked, and Alison’s pastor plead with her to forgive and forget. She almost succumbs to do just that when the last visitor makes it plain to Alison that this pain and betrayal will never go away. This story came about when, years later, Alison Wilson wrote a memoir about all this for the benefit of her two sons and to set the record straight.
Ruth Wilson (Alison Wilson) / Iain Glen (Alec Wilson) / Fiona Shaw (Coleman) / Calam Lynch (Gordon Wilson, son) / Otto Farrant (Nigel Wilson, son) / Ian McElhinney (Father Timothy)
Why Screen This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus) 90% 90%
- Metacritic Score 70% 70%
- BAFTA Awards: Nominated for Best Actress (Ruth Wilson)
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History may have provided the raw materials, but writer Anna Symon and director Richard Laxton, deserve credit for crafting the story to create maximum suspense as Alison plays amateur detective, digging into her husband’s past through old acquaintances and documents to uncover a life of espionage. Ruth Wilson careens between joy, anger, and despair in what for her must amount to a role of a lifetime. And yet, even under that fragile hold on composure, she’s able to convey resilience in spirit.
This grave and zig-zagging miniseries is deeply entrenched in the agony of loss, secrets, mystery, and betrayal. The series deftly unravels lie after lie, revealing infinite depths of treachery to the poor widow Wilson: other wives, additional children and falsified career, among other fabrications. Ruth Wilson is disarming in this role, nimbly flitting from the girlish sprightliness of a young, educated idealist in love with a fraud to the wifely solemnity of a middle-aged woman who has spent two decades in and out of poverty while raising two sons with a ne’er-do-well. It’s an acting triumph.
Ruth Wilson delivers an Emmy-worthy performance.
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