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Tangled roots of a family tree unravel

The BBC America drama 'Almost Strangers' chronicles a mysterious and intriguing three-day family reunion

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It isn't often, but sometimes television can touch some native truth that resonates through us like a poem.

Almost Strangers, from English writer/director Stephen Poliakoff, chronicles one weekend in the life of a large modern family at a posh hotel in London. (The four-hour drama, for mature audiences only, airs on BBC America April 13, 8-11 p.m., and concludes April 14, 10-11 p.m., check local listings.)

The three-day affair is a reunion of strangers – connected by ties neither of affection nor of shared history. But, as the drama unfolds, buried history ignites affection and sheds light on personal mysteries.

Mr. Poliakoff's storytelling is wondrous. He reveals character through anecdotes – flashbacks from the characters' past – and then shows us who they have become now. More important, the character of each storyteller is also revealed – his or her humanity, sensitivity, and insight.

"It's about people making connections, and that is ultimately a spiritual thing," says Poliakoff on the phone from London.

"It's about things not being completely materialistic, about love, about how we live with the memory of our parents, how we live with the memory of what we've done to other people – and if there can be a moment of epiphany, then that is a spiritual thing, too."

The hero is surveyor Daniel Symon (Matthew Macfadyen), who comes from the wrong branch of the family tree. He insists that his dad, Raymond (Michael Gambon), and mum attend the reunion – though he's not sure he wants to go himself.

There is a teasing, bullying intimacy between father and son that seems a tad sinister at the beginning, but by the film's end turns out to be affectionate male bonding. Raymond is the black sheep of the family. Having lost all his father's fortune, he is judged a failure by his relatives, and he dreads their condescension. It is only later that we learn what an admirable "failure" he has been.

At the reunion, Daniel meets long-lost cousins Rebecca and Charles, sister and brother, who scoop Daniel up in their company – and he falls hard for Rebecca. But the instant puppyish rapport among the three gives way under the weight of the siblings' secret sorrow.


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