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A Quick Look at 'Age Before Beauty'
August 27, 2019  | By David Hinckley

The intriguingly titled Age Before Beauty plays like a British variation on The Affair.

Age Before Beauty, a 2018 Brit series that makes its American debut Tuesday on the streaming service BritBox, doesn’t make an extramarital affair as specifically central as does the Showtime drama. 

Nonetheless, an ill-advised liaison redirects the lives of pretty much everyone, through varying degrees of separation. 

Bel Finch (Polly Walker, top) has just sent her two kids off to school and is trying to fight off massive separation anxiety when she learns that the family’s beauty salon, which she left 20 years earlier to raise her family, faces collapse. 

She learns this from her pal Teddy Roxton (Robson Green, top), who is married to Bel’s annoying sister Leanne (Kelly Harrison, top). 

Leanne became the manager of the salon when Bel left and apparently has gradually run it into the ground. Leanne doesn’t see this because nothing is ever Leanne’s fault, reflecting a world-class level of self-absorption that constitutes only one of her obnoxious traits. 

Part of the problem, viewers will quickly realize, is that the salon employs pretty much everyone in the family, and the family isn’t exactly comprised of grade-A workers. 

That’s not helping the salon’s bottom line, though it provides at least sporadic amusement for viewers through characters like Ivy-Rae Regan (Sue Johnston, right), Bel’s mother. She’s an equal-opportunity verbal abuser, whether it’s her wheelchair-bound husband or salon clients. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Bel’s husband Wesley (James Murray, top) has been hoping the departure of the kids will free up some time in Bel’s life for him. 

The salon crisis derails that prospect, and while Wesley isn’t looking for other outlets, he meets Lorelei Bailey (Madeleine Mantock), the wrong woman at the wrong time.

This new twist causes immediate behavioral adjustments among the small and gradually widening group that finds out about it, including Bel and Teddy. 

The corrosive effect of extramarital affairs isn’t exactly a story that no one has thought to tackle on television or in the movies before. So Age Before Beauty creator Debbie Horsfield, whose prior writing credits include Poldark, has tossed in a few wild cards – reactions we didn’t necessarily expect, for reasons we may not discover right away. 

Like The AffairAge Before Beauty inevitably generates soap bubbles. Walker keeps it from getting too frothy, though, with a nuanced performance that conveys her several conflicts without the need for navel-gazing monologues.  

Wesley, who isn’t juggling as many balls as Polly, comes off somewhere between a plain old cad and a decent guy who makes a bad decision and then makes it again. 

Teddy emerges as the most interesting male character, in some of the same ways Green (left) fleshes out his character on Grantchester. His solid-guy exterior camouflages potentially deep flaws. 

It should be added that, as the title suggests, Age Before Beauty plays around with the sensitive question of the importance society, and perhaps women, in particular, place on the inevitable process of aging.

Does age diminish beauty, and to what extent can and should that matter? 

It’s an interesting discussion but not, in this case, a long one. Age Before Beauty runs six episodes and was not picked up for future seasons. As affairs go, let’s call it brief. 

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