John Mulligan is one of Richard Armitage’s sexiest characters. A cleaned up Guy of Gisborne , a lighter Lucas North and a more real Harry Kennedy. Unlike the others, Mulligan is meetable. The 44 minute BBC play, Moving On – Drowning Not Waving,” written by Sarah Deane and co-starring Christine Tremarco is fast becoming one of my go to Armitage pieces. I’d like to rely on the understated performances, the taut script, the intrigue,the spot on set design and neat wardrobe in touting this, but those are the least of the reasons.
John Mulligan is just so hot, made even more so because he desires. He’s the polished looking, confident seducer, focused on what he wants, and what he wants is Ellie Morgan.
I can’t think of another role Richard Armitage played that has this particular element- a relationship- not with a hero, a misfit, a tough guy, an artist or any other extraordinary and clearly fictional character and not unrequited.
By the time John rings Ellie’s doorbell Ellie, so buried in debt that the electricity is about to be turned off and the ATM is mocking her, has mobilized herself out of her depression-induced paralysis to put her house on the market. She’s getting off the property ladder, as her mother callously tells her.
Every second of the 44 minute format is utilized to its full to set the back story. It turns out that John and Ellie knew each other from school 20 years earlier. He teases her that she probably thought he would wind up in jail instead of in real estate and reminds her, as he does throughout the piece, raising some discomfit, that she was “Miss Smartypants” who unaccountably wants to sell in a buyer’s market. Ellie wastes no time reminding Mulligan that he was a good kisser. So we find out fast, Ellie was the good girl; Mulligan was the bad boy, and a little something happened between them.
That he wants her now is apparent from the get go – and the script gives us a decent explanation to make it believable that after 20 years there would be instant attraction.
In the game of golf, a “mulligan” is a do-over: a second chance to correct a bad stroke. John Mulligan wants a second chance at Ellie Morgan, and he’s wasting no time. Maybe Ellie wants a second chance too, and if she sells her house, Mulligan can give it to her. We can tell by the wardrobe change that after seeing the house for the first time, John comes back for a second visit, and tells Ellie he’s interested in buying. To celebrate, he suggests they go to dinner. Is this too good to be true? Probably.
Armitage fleetingly changes his expression when Ellie turns her back – from amiable and charming, to something a little darker, knit brows, pursed lips. But that could be for any reason.
At dinner, he’s both flirtatious and pointed, almost taunting her, raising more discomfit, over her misfortune – the good girl, Miss Smartypants, who was supposed to end up in one place, but instead ended up selling low to get out of debt.
Ellie acts suspicious when cocky John tells her that she will sell him her house and remain as a tenant, because she has no choice. “What’s in it for you?”, she asks, and makes it clear that he’s not getting anything more than a tenant. He’s not buying her. He stares dead on, and says, “that’s not something I would think to pay for.”
The screencap above brings to mind something Richard Armitage once said about how to “smolder” on screen. His answer was, that you think of what you want to be doing to the person, but you’re not doing it. That is this scene. He’s not even looking at me and I still want to skip dessert and get the hell out of there. But Ellie still has some pride left and when pre-ordered champagne arrives at the table, a sign that Mulligan was confident he would get his way about the house, Ellie walks out on him.
A talk with Ellie’s BFF convinces her that maybe she acted too hastily – she’s had a dry spell, here was a stunningly handsome, rich, well-dressed man, what could be bad?
So when John shows up with a peace offering take- out dinner and some beer, they settle in for a cozy evening at home reminiscing, relaxing –
Cut to the next morning.
Due to a misunderstanding, Ellie gives John the cold shoulder when he comes downstairs looking for coffee in the morning. He has no idea what’s going on, but she practically runs him out of the house, accusing him of trading on her vulnerability-using her -which he denies. The disappointment and bafflement is written on Richard Armitage’s face. He stands in the kitchen like a jerk for a while, and then the sound of the front door closing.
But he comes back again the next day, white flag flying, to try and make peace He sets everything straight and tells her he really cares about her.
Sometime later, Ellie’s friend tells her that John makes his money selling drugs. Ellie doesn’t know what to believe, but when she confronts John he convinces here that his drug dealing days were a long time ago. And he is very convincing, when they meet at a playground and he languidly glides on a swing, breaths of frosty air streaming from his lips. “Don’t ruin it before we even have a chance.” He admits to some bad behavior in the past, but assures Ellie that “that person is not who I am now.”
Three times Ellie rebuffed John, and three times he came back. He wants this woman. But why?
Ellie gets a big check for the house, a down payment I would guess, and the couple prepares for a weekend in New York.
A last minute phone call, a wary look from John, and he has to beg off, promising to meet her in New York on the next flight. Ellie starts off, but gets cold feet. She checks the luggage from the highway and discovers that her bag is packed with what looks like heroin or cocaine.
And the penultimate scene takes place in jail between Ellie and John, who has been sentenced to five years in prison.
I’ve left out a lot – the ambiguity – do we believe John or do we believe Ellie’s friend? Is he a drug dealer who’s using her only as a mule or does he care? I’ve omitted all that because I’m not interested in the morality tale. I don’t want to justify falling for – and staying down in the face of knowledge – for Richard Armitage’s John Mulligan.
On the face of it, he’s a kind of man I’ve known and liked, and that he’s in Richard Armitage’s skin doesn’t hurt. I felt his desire for Ellie Morgan. I imagined what he wanted to do with her, how he wanted to be with her. Drug dealer problems aside, he was real. Lies and manipulation forgotten for now, he was fun, decisive, sure.
And there was that additional element of people reconnecting after a long period – the one that got away, the missed opportunity, the second shot. I’ve experienced that – twice with the same man. There’s something satisfying about it.
As to John Mulligan, I think it highly unlikely and bad business to pursue a woman and pay her tens of thousands just to get her to fly to New York with drug laden luggage one time. Maybe he wanted to conquer her because when they were younger, she thought she was above him (Miss Smartypants) and he wanted to bring her down – or maybe she had some small part to play in his effort to rise out of the gutter – to be worthy of someone like her, or maybe, he just wanted that mulligan.
Moving On: Drowning Not Waving is available on CD from Amazon and the episode is available for purchase and unlimited streaming from Amazon Instant Video for $ 1.99. In addition, the Moving On Page of RANet.Com has reviews and press releases. I think it;’ a top drawer production with strong performances.