On Sunday, PBS’s “Masterpiece” is premiering a two-parter called “Us,” adapted from David Nicholls’s novel. It’s a bittersweet story about a middle-aged couple considering a breakup, and it’s a spectacular travelogue as they and their teenage son travel through Europe. It also features a stellar performance by Tom Hollander as Douglas, a good man whose critical eye and lack of imagination too often turn him into a whiner and a poor sport.
One night, Douglas’s wife, Saskia Reeves’s Connie, wakes him up to tell him she wants to split. Their son, Albie (Tom Taylor), is about to fly the nest, and she wants to pursue other things. It’s all very civilized. She’s gentle but firm, and Douglas, who likes his daily routines and comforts, is thrown. The family has already paid for a three-week European tour, and Douglas wants them to have one last trip together. His secret plan: to get Connie to change her mind.
The trip ensues, interspersed with flashbacks of the couple’s early days together, and how they fell in love. Their differences are loud and clear, then and now. He is a scientist with a flat temperament and not a lot of intuition. She’s the artist with a more dramatic and exuberant personality. Albie is more like his mother, as he is constantly taking photos and playing guitar, and he has developed a strong antipathy toward his father, who is constantly pushing him to be more practical about his future. Watching Douglas try to chitchat with his son, after being told to by Connie, is excruciating — and just more evidence of Hollander’s chops.
There’s nothing surprising or exceptional about “Us,” but it’s a solid, well-acted miniseries that begins with a painful sense of decorum and then breaks into something more raw, and more affecting.