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Gold Digger: the middle class façade of happy families

LGFL Director Rita Gupta gives her view on the hit TV drama series from a family law perspective.

The BBC drama “Gold Digger” has sent shock waves through UK suburbia with its themes of relationships with an age difference, concealed domestic violence, and adultery. It also lifts the (wedding) veil on the long lasting effects of children having witnessed parental violence, and how it impacts their own relationships with both their partners and their children.

The drama seemingly starts as a single thread tale of an older woman involved with a much younger man. Lead character Julia is a middle class wealthy woman who has just turned 60 who forms a relationship with Benjamin, a man 26 years her junior, and only slightly older than her oldest son.

As Ben Barnes, the actor who plays Benjamin says:

“The weight of the story comes from our society’s prejudice against age gaps in relationships.”

 

Is he a gold digger?

The relationship sparks suspicion from all of those in Julia’s life about Ben’s motives, and whether or not he is with her for her money (hence the “Gold Digger” title) or genuinely loves her.

We’re not going to give any spoilers as the series finale is on Tuesday 17 December and the series is available on iPlayer. However, we will say that the series does uncover certain elements of middle class families that we often see for ourselves as experienced family lawyers.

“Gold Digger” is a drama that reveals how Family Law issues happen in many different areas of society. Sometimes, we are misled to feel that legal issues only arise for those with financial difficulties, or who are not so well-educated, and have perhaps been in the care system. This is simply not the case.

On the surface it is easy to think that the large detached country home, status and three children bring perfect happiness. What is so clever about this series is the way in which it challenges our innate preconceptions.

 

 

The Age Differences

As the saying goes, opposites attract but similarities stay together. “Gold Digger” highlights the huge differences - generationally, economically and socially - between Julia and her much younger lover Benjamin.

As writer Marnie Dickens explains:

“I wanted to look at what it means for a woman when she drops off the desirability scale for the rest of society. You haven’t actually gone away, it’s just that people stop looking. The key to “Gold Digger” is that Benjamin sees Julia. That’s such a big thing because her ex-husband has only seen her in terms of the marriage they made, and her kids can’t understand her as a sexual being.”

Does age make a difference?

Let me first say that in my experience, there is no absolutely no reason why a relationship with an age difference cannot work. It all depends on the individual. However in recent years, I have noticed that where there is a 'significant' age difference, it can become an issue, particularly with the trend of the ‘silver separator’.

When a couple with an age difference first get together, it is not so much of an issue if someone is in their 20’s and the other partner is in their 40’s. Fast forward 20 years, and if one partner is in their 40’s and their spouse is in their 60’s, then it is a very different ball game.

Is 40 the new 30?

We would all like to say that, as a generation, we are all much younger at heart. People have a longer life expectancy than ever before, so turning 40 these days is not deemed to be ‘old’ in the way it was for previous generations.

However, when someone is aged 60+ they develop a different mindset. They would be looking at retirement options, and there may be also health issues that gradually set in. I have seen for myself how as one partner approaches retirement age, the couple now have very different interests, objectives and goals in life. This can ultimately lead to a relationship breakdown.

Any relationship breakdown then has major long-term implications financially, when you need to factor in pensions, savings, investments and the ability to work. In any relationship like this where there are non-adult children involved or second marriages, these factors can make a big difference. It is undeniable that the way in which we have to approach these cases when the parties have such different needs is more complex. (I’ll be detailing the financial implications of age differences in much more detail in a future blog.)

 

Domestic Violence and the veneer of respectability

Another poignant issue that “Gold Digger” deals with is the hidden domestic violence in middle class families. On the surface, everything seems perfect between Julia and her first husband Edward. They live in a huge 6-bedroom property in Devon, with their three children, and appear to have the perfect lifestyle. Then Edward commits adultery with her best friend and the veneer of respectability starts to crack.

However, it emerges early on that Julia has been a victim of domestic violence from her husband. She has stayed together with him for 35 years, and bar one incident of reporting, it has all been brushed under the carpet. Julia has stayed with him for the sake of the children, but was that the right decision?

 

Children witnessing domestic violence

The drama grasps this thorny issue with both hands by showing flashbacks of the adult children witnessing parental domestic violence. It was never addressed, counselling was never sought, and the mother focused on wanting to stay together for the children without seeing the impact that domestic violence was having on her children.

Current research suggests that witnessing parental violence and abuse is detrimental for the children’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. (We explore this in our recent blog). Equally, it can impact on their relationships moving forward as a result of the relationship that they have witnessed with their parents, as in this TV drama.

 

Adultery: all too familiar

Adultery is something that as family lawyers, we do come across regularly, and it is explored in two threads in “Gold Digger”. The first is in relation to Julia’s husband, the patriarch of the family, who leaves Julia to have an affair with her best friend and subsequently moves in with her after a 35-year marriage. The issues of extreme betrayal and hurt for Julia, who appears to allow life to happen to her, is poignantly depicted.

The second explores how workplace relationships can lead to a very close intimacy, which can progress further. In “Gold Digger” the character struggles in balancing their adulterous relationship, against their family commitments, spouse and their children.

However, the drama reveals that sometimes, the grass is not always greener. This is an issue that as family lawyers we often come across. Whether adultery is as a result of the individual’s action only, or symptomatic of being unhappy in a marriage, is something that would be up for debate. Either way, the impact of adultery ripples far beyond just the original couple and their relationship.

 

The past affects the present

Rarely does a drama show the implications of past and present actions with such gripping intensity, taking “Gold Digger” beyond its initial premise and into deeper, darker territory. Needless to say, if you haven’t watched it, we heartily recommend it. It may not be easy viewing at times, but it is truthful and thought-provoking even for those of us who deal with the repercussions of family and marriage breakdowns on an almost daily basis.

 

Call us to discuss your situation

If you are affected by any of the family law issues in “Gold Digger”, and wish to know your legal position, call us. We offer a free 30-minute consultation for qualifying clients, where you can discuss your situation and decide the best way forward for you and your family.