Love Stories: a feminist variant on an old love story

In love with dogs? Love stories take all kinds: people, animals, roles, faces, names, motives. Sometimes they take place in a day. I love Love Stories because they incorporate everything I love about a…

Love Stories: a feminist variant on an old love story

In love with dogs? Love stories take all kinds: people, animals, roles, faces, names, motives. Sometimes they take place in a day. I love Love Stories because they incorporate everything I love about a love story, with bits I like to call internet bits.

Not only does the first Love Story remain steadfastly steady, but the tropes remain familiar: first kiss, falling in love, impetuous longing. Wanda’s quest to adopt someone new, that one hot evening you wonder if a complicated romance would lead to you winding up with a suitor who looks exactly like you … these are all there. Her experience of love generally involves salvation. The character you’re supposed to feel cheated by becomes someone who fixes you up with a good friend you’d forgotten about. And of course there are the walks. These rarely last more than an hour, but they pass by quickly and with such playfulness, we easily don’t feel we’re missing anything.

There’s a plot, but the plot is secondary to the setting. A German Shepherd enjoys a posh dinner. He tells her about his sinecure.

Wanda: “We all have job titles and there’s good and bad in them.”

Klopp: “But not in people.”

Wanda: “I think people might be more complicated and brilliant than jobs.”

Klopp: “The part you just mentioned was horrible.”

When he tells her about being kidnapped as a boy by soldiers on patrol, she immediately assumes his skin is like snake skin. I would say that I heard this exchange only a little more than once, but it lingered in my mind because the relationship was so captivating. People say now, “He could have saved you,” but that doesn’t seem right. They’re supposed to stay away from her. The experience itself might have rescued her, but the introduction, the circumstances, the fact that a stranger with a past, a human being, could have prevented the tragedy in the first place is surely what sapped her of power and empathy.

The reunited pair do the walk in front of a huge red curtain, attached to a platform that sometimes wobbles, but otherwise you wouldn’t notice. An enormous, limousine-like vehicle is waiting on the opposite side of the river and you’re tempted to jump in. You don’t know what to expect. You want to believe that the ship will do a U-turn and drive off. Those last five lines are superlative: “What looked like evil could really be love,” “A man’s true colours can show through” “When it comes to a lady, she is someone’s skin against his own” and of course, “When it comes to love, the victor is always the one who bends first.” It’s wrong to belittle Shakespeare’s prose, but “win” and “fold first” is not something you can come up with out of thin air.

The emotions that lurk in Shakespeare’s translation – resistance and suffocation, humiliation and regret – are occasionally palpable here. They’re there too when Heather, sad and headstrong, tells things just the way they are – ten thousand miles away in China where she’s teaching English at a school for adult orphan children. I have literally seen and experienced the likes of her. But that’s part of the immense appeal of the two-hander. You see a lover, someone you’ve been looking for for years, naked and alone and vulnerable, facing you from across the city, anticipating your response. They’re no monsters but their actions are like people – even if they do have free will, are deceived and maybe even loathe you.

In Love Stories, I hope I’ve succeeded in deepening our understanding of what Shakespeare wrote. I hope those two-handers have reminded you to love the language and act from it as you might a lover. And, if you’re interested, I hope you’ve got a spare verse or two.

The Love Stories pilot ran on Channel 4 in 2018. A second series will air in 2019.

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