‘Dreamland’ review: Lily Allen splashes down in Margate for top TV debut

Pop down to the Kentish coast for this funny and heartfelt miniseries

Two years ago, Lily Allen earned rave reviews and a coveted Olivier Award nomination for her stage debut in 2:22 A Ghost Story. Now, she is taking on her first TV acting role in this eminently bingeable comedy-drama series exec-produced by Sharon Horgan (Bad Sisters, Catastrophe). And once again, her performance is a lot more than alright.

Adapted from Horgan’s 2017 short Morgana Robinson’s Summer, Dreamland is very much a female-led ensemble piece, but Allen’s character is the dramatic disruptor. She plays Mel, the prodigal sister who returns to her seaside hometown of Margate after a not entirely successful spell working in Paris. Her sister Trish (Freema Agyeman) and husband Spence (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) are expecting their third child, so the family gathers for a baby shower where Trish is trying to manifest a daughter by making everything pink, including the hummus.

Mel turns up drunk clutching a four-pack of Stella, which prompts raised eyebrows from her other sisters, sensible Clare (Gabby Best, also one of the show’s writers) and sweet-natured Leila (Aimee-Ffion Edwards). They’re a close-knit clan led by mum Cheryl (Frances Barber), who raised all four daughters without their respective fathers, but driven Trish and unreliable Mel are wont to clash. When Trish scolds her sister by hissing that “being a hot mess is very 2019”, Mel shoots back: “Well, being a bitch is timeless.”

Kiell Smith-Bynoe plays Lily Allen’s on-screen husband in ‘Dreamland’. CREDIT: Sky


Named after Margate’s famous amusement park, Dreamland begins a little tentatively before finding its footing at the end of episode two, when we find out just how much of a hot mess Mel really is. Allen brilliantly captures her character’s prickly guilt and constant, low-level social discomfort, but the performances are strong across the board. Agyeman is saddled with some clunky dialogue – including an admittedly well-intentioned speech about the way women of colour are mistreated in hospital – but her bold, full-throttle turn makes it work. Sitcom legend Sheila Reid, as the family’s playful, slightly off-the-wall Nan, is a gleeful scene-stealer.

Like many comedy-drama series, Dreamland tends to be mildly amusing rather than side-splittingly hilarious, but there are some witty zingers about the ongoing gentrification of Margate. Leila’s love interest Dom (Hugh Coles), a trendy, ‘tache-sporting architect who has relocated to the coast from the big smoke, is pithily dismissed as “that twat from Mumford & Sons“. Still, there’s perhaps a slight irony in the fact that Dreamland‘s gorgeous aesthetic – all ice cream colours and constant sunshine – will makes the town even more appealing to jaded Londoners.

By the time the six-episode series concludes with plenty of unfinished business – Mel isn’t the only family member with a selective approach to honesty – you’ll be itching for a return trip. This is a warm, well-observed show with characters you’ll care about because their flaws and foibles are all too human.

‘Dreamland’ is available from April 6 on Sky Atlantic and NOW


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