The story so far. Following the death of Robert Hammond, control of his thriving haulage firm was split four ways – equal shares were distributed to his three sons – Edward, Brian and David – whilst the fourth equal share went to his mistress Jennifer Kingsley.
With no-one in overall control, there’s a constant power-struggle as elder son Edward (currently managing director) finds himself under attack from his two brothers, both convinced they could run the company better than him. And the trauma in the boardroom is matched by equal strife in their respective bedrooms.
We’ve previously seen that David’s (Robin Chadwick) recent marriage to the lovely, if rather doormat-like Jill (Gabrielle Drake), has had a few wobbles, mainly because his roving eye was elsewhere. He hadn’t actually been unfaithful, but Jill’s suspicions created a definite rift which they attempt to heal during this run of episodes.
Middle son Brian (Richard Easton) suffered even more spectacular marriage problems during the third series, although he remained blissfully unaware. His bored wife Ann (a wonderful performance by Hilary Tindall) found solace in the arms of smooth advertising type Nicholas Fox whilst chugging down far too many sleeping pills and drinking heavily. Her unhappiness at feeling trapped in a loveless marriage culminated in an overdose, although she appears to be quite her old self again now, even to the extent of restablishing contact with Nicholas.
Elder son Edward (Patrick O’Connell) doesn’t have any complaints on the marriage front, but that’s only because he’s single. He has his eye on someone though – Jennifer Kingsley (Jennifer Wilson). His desire to wed his father’s mistress has been a running thread for a while, although Edward’s mother, the powerful matriarch Mary (Jean Anderson), strongly disapproves. This might have been one of the reasons why Mary keeled over at the end of series three with a heart attack.
So as series four begins, all three brothers face challenges in their personal lives whilst the business of running Hammonds also continues to cause them tremendous strife. And waiting in the wings is ambitious merchant banker Paul Merroney (Colin Baker), a man who always has his own agenda …..
The series four opener, Emergency sees Mary seriously ill in hosptal. She was discovered (off-screen) by Edward and Jennifer who had returned from a brief holiday with life-changing news – Edward had proposed and Jennifer accepted. But their happiness quickly evaporates as Edward blames himself for leaving his mother on her own.
We then see a nice visual signifier of the bond between mother and son. Whilst Edward goes to the hospital to await further news, Jennifer stays behind to contact Brian and David as the camera lingers on a framed portrait of Mary and Edward. It’s a clever, unspoken touch which forshadows the dominance Mary will exert over her elder son.
When Mary gets better she has no compunction in telling Edward that he can’t marry Jennifer. Edward might be a hard-headed businessman but he always come off second best with his mother. And this is enough to convince Jennifer that marriage to Edward would be impossible.
Business matters take centre-stage again with episode two, Secret Meetings, as Brian and David plan to offer merchant banker Martin Farrell (Murray Hayne) a seat on the board – the first step in their plan to make Hammonds a public company. Of course they’ve yet to mention this to Edward, so sparks inevitably fly when they do. Having said this, it’s surprising that Edward accepts their plan meekly, but he’s got an idea up his sleeve – if Bill Riley also joined the board then (provided he always votes Edward’s way) the status quo would remain. This is classic Brothers, featuring plot and counterplot.
If David has always irritated me somewhat, then Brian is a much more sympathetic character, even if it’s impossible not to feel a little frustrated by the way he remained oblivious to Ann’s lengthy relationship with Nicholas Fox (Jonathan Newth). But even Brian’s blindness could only continue for so long without it seeming totally unbelievable, and when he finally twigs it’s the cue for high drama. His first reaction, of course, is to reach for a drink (heavy alcohol consumption, along with an equally herculean nicotine intake, is something of a feature of the series).
Brian doesn’t confront Ann straight away, which enables him to calmly twist the knife and make her feel even more guilty than she already is. This is a good move – since you know the showdown will happen eventually, making us wait a little simply heightens the expectation. But Brian’s not backward in letting Ann know exactly what he thinks of her when the truth does emerge. “Your whole world begins and ends with yourself. You’re shallow, you’re superficial and utterly self-centered. Nothing matters to you but self, self, self!”
Ann doesn’t take this lying down. “You are a predictable bore, Brian. You don’t want a wife, you want a second mother. Somebody to cook and clean for you, and tuck you in and say, ‘there, there’ whenever you’re not feeling very well.” Both Richard Easton and Hilary Tindall are firing on all cylinders throughout (the end of episode five – Partings – as Brian knocks a shocked Ann to the floor is one of a number of stand-out moments). If Brian, following his separation from Ann, becomes something of a tortured figure then so does Ann herself. It slowly dawns on her that Nicholas Fox (a serial seducer) has no interest in a long-term relationship ….
David decides to become a racing driver (!) which means that Jill has to wait anxiously on the sidelines, hoping that he won’t be hurt. Frankly, this isn’t much of a role for Gabrielle Drake (compare and contrast to the plotlines dished out to Hilary Tindall) so it’s no surprise that she decided not to return for the fifth series.
Drake might also have been a little miffed that Jill didn’t turn up until the fourth episode and when she does finally make her first appearance it’s only to be once again verbally smacked down by David (he’s less than impressed with her anniversary gift to him – a penthouse flat – complaining that he doesn’t want to be a kept man). He eventually accepts it, but does so with his usual brand of charmless ill-grace.
The on/off relationship between Edward and Jennifer allows Martin Farrell to step in (much to Edward’s extreme annoyance) whilst Bill struggles with the responsibilities of having a seat on the board. He’s always been proud to have the respect of the men, will this change now he’s one of the executives?
Brian’s run of bad luck continues in Saturday, but the later part of series four focuses on company traumas. The decision to make Hammonds a public company offers up a new range of storytelling possibilities. Until now, boardroom squabbles have largely been confined between the three brothers, but now that anyone is free to buy shares everything changes.
And this is partly where Paul Merroney comes in. He’s introduced in the fifth episode as a colleague of Farrell’s, brought in to advise how Hammonds should go public and although his screentime throughout series four is quite limited, he’ll become more central in the years to come. But Colin Baker, in his first regular television role, certainly makes the most of the material he’s given.
The wonderful Richard Hurndall guests in Bad Mistake as Clifton, an influential investment manager crucial to Hammonds’ future. Edward’s blunt style leaves Clifton less than impressed, giving Hurndall a chance to demonstrate his familiar icy, amused detachment. This episode also marks the point where Merroney starts to have an influence on company policy, much to Edward’s disgust.
The series finale, the aptly named The Crucial Vote, sees Edward struggling to keep the board united as the infighting intensifies. There’s no doubt that there will be many more twists and turns to come in the battle for Hammonds, which bodes well for future series.
Interweaving numerous plot-threads across its fourteen episodes, series four of The Brothers continues to be highly addictive entertainment. Brian and Ann’s disintegrating marriage is the definite highlight although the unstable powder-keg that is Edward Hammond also entertains. Patrick O’Connell plays Edward as a man constantly struggling to keep his anger in check – which can be seen most clearly any time that Jennifer and Martin Farrell exchange glances. David’s fleeting desire to be a racing driver is less easy to swallow, but at least the one racing-centric episode – The Race – is not without interest, especially for the authentic track footage.
If you’ve yet to sample the world of the Hammond brothers, then now – with the first four series available and the remaining three due out by the end of the year – would appear to be the ideal time to do so.
The Brothers – Series Four is released by Simply Media on the 9th of January 2017. RRP £29.99.