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Black Work: Episode 1 Review

Policewoman Jo Gillespie (Sheridan Smith) and husband Ryan (Kenny Doughty) are attempting to salvage a marriage under strain. A police officer himself, Ryan’s job takes him away from home several days a week and the couple have drifted apart. In the vacuum created by his absence Jo has become extremely close to a colleague. A relationship – if not an affair already – is on the verge of becoming one.

Jo’s life, and that of her family (the couple have a young daughter, and Ryan a son from a previous relationship), is blown apart when Ryan is murdered. Jo discovers that he had not been working out of town and watching football with mates on his frequent nights out, but had been a deep cover officer working to break a criminal gang. Because they are on the brink of a break in the case, Ryan’s boss initially asks Jo to keep the death of their father from her children in case they post something online and alert the media and the gang.

The night after the murder major arrests are made in the case, but the circumstances around Ryan’s death are mysterious: he should have been in regular contact with a handler but had failed to log reports the week before his death; Jo discovers anti-anxiety medication hidden in his sock drawer; no one can explain why he had gone to the deserted industrial site where he was killed. As Jo becomes convinced that there is more to Ryan’s murder than she is being told she decides to investigate herself.

Black Work episode 1

Three-part thriller Black Work was trailed as a series examining undercover policing, but writer Matt Charman appears to have created something more intriguing than a simple procedural drama. By initially grounding the story in a domestic drama, and by framing events through the eyes of the unsuspecting wife, Charman sets up a relatable middle class drama – and when the rug is whipped out from beneath Jo, it is also taken from the audience.

Jo discovers that she may not have known the man she loved, lived with, and had a child by. The duplicity of the undercover life is suggested in the opening scene when Ryan hides a padded envelope in the laundry cupboard. Later on this envelope is discovered not by fellow police officers, but by his daughter and causes an excruciating scene as Jo’s (possibly) inappropriate relationship is exposed. While her family is shocked and angry, audience sympathy is with her as we have seen that the undercover life her husband had hidden from her had been not unlike an affair itself.

Sheridan Smith is terrific in the lead role. In one episode she must move from grief, to anger, to shame. Around her a cast of top tier British acting talent has been assembled including Douglas Henshall and Geraldine James as senior police officers.

Full of plot twists and intrigue, the opening episode of Black Work suggests ITV has found its next hit crime drama.

Director: Michael Samuels

Writer: Matt Charman

Cast: Sheridan Smith, Sharon Duce, Geraldine James, Douglas Henshall, Matthew McNulty, Kenny Doughty

Review by Stuart Barr.

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