‘The 12 Days of Christine’ shows us 12 days in the life of the main character in this episode, Christine Clarke, played by Sheridan Smith. They all take place in her flat with 13 months in between them, that is a year plus one month, something which is mentioned by Christine’s one time flatmate Fung (Stacy Liu), who is a university student and talks about how a timescale of 13 months fits into theories of measurable magnitudes and portable vectors.
The episode begins in January, in the early hours of New Year’s Day, with Christine coming home from a New Year’s Eve fancy dress party dressed as a nun with a man named Adam (Tom Riley) who is dressed as a fireman. We then flash forward to February the following year, on Valentine’s Day. We find out that Christine and Adam have been going out during that time, and he has sent her a Valentine’s Day card, though oddly Christine also receives one from an ex-boyfriend who she hasn’t seen since high school.
In March a year later, Mother’s Day, Christine’s mum Marion (Michele Dotrice) visits. They are going through old photos and Marion asks when Christine and Adam are going to get married. She also mentions that Christine’s father is ill, suffering from Alzheimer’s, and that the high school boyfriend who apparently sent Christine the Valentine’s card died when he was 16.
By April the next year, around Easter time, Fung has moved out of Christine’s flat, and Adam has began to move in. Christine starts to hide chocolate Easter eggs around the house, but then real eggs become splattered on the walls. Christine is frightened when the lights begin to flicker and she sees a mysterious stranger in glasses and a raincoat (Reece Shearsmith) inside her home.
Christine then wakes up a year later on May Bank Holiday. She and Adam have since got married, and she is pregnant. Adam tries, with some difficulty, to assemble a cot. Then it’s June the following year, Father’s Day. The baby has been born, a boy named Jack, and Christine writes a Father’s Day card on his behalf. She then overhears the voice of the Stranger she encountered before on the baby monitor, and runs to Jack’s room. Jack’s cot is empty, but it turns out Adam has got him.
In July the next year it’s Christine’s 30th birthday party, and we meet her gay best friend Bobby (Steve Pemberton) and her dad Ernie (Paul Copely). Adam arrives later with a work colleague named Zara, and it’s implied he may be having an affair with her. A game of blind man’s buff leads Christine to August the following year, where Adam is packing a suitcase for them to go on holiday. The two have an argument, as the holiday was going to be just the two of them, but they now have to take Jack along as Christine’s father passed away, meaning that her mother is in no state to look after Jack for them.
In September a year later, Jack is starting his first day of school. After Marion takes him, Christine becomes tearful. We see her dad come towards her, despite it been said that he died earlier. Not only that, but he seems healthy compared to his confused state when we saw him at Christine’s birthday party. He tries to cheer her up. Christine tells him that she regrets how her life has turned out, as neither her personal life nor her career are going well, stating that she is divorced from Adam and she’s been working in the same shoe shop for years. Ernie says that this is supposed to be happy memory, to which Christine replies that it doesn’t feel like it.
13 months later in October, Christine is getting dressed up as a witch to go to a Halloween fancy dress party with Bobby. He is going as a vampire, but decides to turn it into a werewolf. Christine comments that he looks more like Tony the Tiger. She then mentions that ten years ago, she and Bobby did that “If we’re both single in ten years we’ll marry each other” thing, which is always a bit of joke between friends, but mainly because ten years seems like a long time away, and then when it gets there you can’t quite believe how quickly it went. Then Adam turns up, but Christine thought he had come in already, and she finds the Stranger in Jack’s bedroom.
This goes straight to November a year later on Bonfire Night. Jack has burned his hand with a sparkler. Christine is of course worried, but Marion comes to help and tells her that Jack is fine and hasn’t been burnt at all. Christine is certain she saw it happen, to which Marion replies that Christine burnt her hand with a sparkler when she was Jack’s age, so she might be thinking of that. Christine looks at her hand seeing a burn mark on it, saying she’s getting everything jumbled up.
The final month is December the following year. Christine is having Christmas dinner with family and friends. Her mother and Bobby are there, so is her late father, and Fung, who she mentioned as a vague memory in the October segment. Adam kisses Christine and says they got back together last Bonfire night. The party gives Christine a present, a photo album showing major events in her life, some of which we saw over the course of the episode. Christine is moved to tears, saying “You’ve got everything. This is like my whole life is flashing… oh, I think I know what this is now”.
We end up in the present day. Christine has crashed her car, and her head has hit the steering wheel. Eggs she had bought while shopping are splattered on the car windscreen. She spots the Stranger through the window, sees police sirens, and a fireman comes to cut the car and lift her out. We learn that the Stranger walked into the road without looking, and Christine swerved to avoid him, crashing her car. Jack was with her, and the Stranger was able to rescue him but couldn’t get to Christine.
Back in Christine’s mind, Jack comes in dressed as an angel for the school Nativity play and hugs Christine. Marion tells Christine “It’s time”, and we hear ‘Con te partio (Time To Say Goodbye)’ by Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman, which had been playing on Christine’s car radio. Christine smiles and tells her family and friends “Goodbye everyone. I love you.”
Well, this episode was a tearjerker. It’s very rare I cry at TV, but I did with this episode both times I watched it. The last few minutes are very moving. I didn’t find the twist a surprise, I thought early on Christine would turn out to be a ghost (which wasn’t quite what happened), and when she was shown the photo album I knew where it was going. But that made it all the more sad to watch, seeing Christine work out what was happening to her. What was a bit of a shock was that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith would write something like this. They mostly do black comedy or weird, nightmarish horror. That they wrote something as poignant as this, and a lot better than many dramas do, says a lot. It helps that as viewers we felt like we knew Christine well. Even though we’d only known her for 30 minutes, we’d seen many significant events in her life. Sheridan Smith’s performance was amazing too, showing a lot of personality in Christine and making her very relatable.
It was a clever idea to have 12 years condensed into one, and on repeated viewings there are a lot of signs there, such as sirens in the background, blue flashing Christmas tree lights being like police car lights, toy cars including a police car next to an overturned car. References to ‘Con te partio (Time To Say Goodbye)’ appeared throughout the episode, with Adam singing it to Jack and Christine looking at the CD a few times, and the track was used to excellent effect in the final scene and over the end credits, and a large part of why those final scenes were so moving.
I like dramas about someone’s memory or psychological state, such as Memento, and this episode did a good job of that. Memory is unreliable enough anyway, but in Christine’s case, her brain had been damaged by the accident and her dying mind was trying to make sense of what was going on by reliving key moments in her life. Memories were mixed up with each other, what was going on in the present was interrupting it, and there was probably stuff she just imagined. Like Black Swan for example, it’s debatable what really happened and what didn’t. But the thing about this episode was, whether it was an accurate recollection or not didn’t really matter. The point was how if effected Christine emotionally, and therefore us as viewers.
This was a brilliantly put together episode. Just as the second episode of series one ‘A Quiet Night In’ was widely seen as the best one, I think ‘The 12 Days of Christine’ is going to be seen as the best episode of series two. For me, I think it will go down as one of my favourite episodes of TV in general.