Claire and Jade feature in ‘The Year That Changed Love’
Claire and Jade feature in ‘The Year That Changed Love’ © Channel 4

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The pandemic didn’t so much divide the sheep from the goats, as the singletons from everybody else. Being alone in lockdown was hard, especially for anyone thirsting for love. Clare Richards’ light-hearted film examines various permutations of emotional deprivation and the lengths to which seven people went to alleviate it during lockdown and beyond.

It’s low-fi TV, poking into people’s homes and celebrating the ordinary. As if we haven’t had enough of that already. Jade and Claire in Edinburgh decided to spend lockdown together after only one date, a risky undertaking for “total complete polar opposites”.

Separated Yorkshire couple Emma and Dean have decided to spend lockdown together for the sake of their small son, but the renewed proximity is grating after years of tension. Emma is a beautician who specialises in brows (“I like to think I have a good reputation in the village”) while Dean is so withdrawn he looks as though he can barely lift his eyes from the skirting board.

Ffion, 26, lives with her mum and amuses herself putting out short films on social media about the ever-changing coronavirus regulations in Wales. Boyfriend Ben is desperate for a “cwtsh” — a hug — but being the face of Covid compliance, Ffion can hardly go round breaking the rules. Divorced Louise, 50, shielding for months in Wiltshire after having recovered from a brain tumour, can’t wait to start dating again. A walk to Stonehenge followed by a pub date with new prospect Rob is deflating: “It could have been anyone sat there.” After an online pep talk about “honouring your feelings” from her “love coach”, she skips off to meet a New Zealander who resembles Patrick Swayze: “My future husband!” The Kiwi’s chatter is curiously fruit-based; Alison Steadman might envy the gamut of expressions on Louise’s face as the date progresses. 

Despite the chirpily superficial narration, deeper dimensions gradually reveal themselves. Claire, usually so bouncy and ebullient, has to take a moment after saying: “My mum saw me through a lot of bad relationships.” Dean and Emma reveal the tragedy that split them apart. The claim that the participants “unlocked love this year” doesn’t quite hold true, but everyone learns something valuable, even if it’s just that chocolate can sometimes replace a “cwtsh”. 

★★★☆☆

On Channel 4 from December 15 at 10pm

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