The opening scenes of Angela Black, ITV’s new Hitchcockian Sunday night drama, appear to show an idyllic scene of middle class aspiration. With architecture that would elicit a gentle nod of approval from Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud, large glass goblets of expensive red wine and genteel post-dinner chit-chat. What we see seems blissful. What we do not see is quite the opposite…
With Angela and Olivier’s friends barely out of the door, the mood sours. According to him, she’d caused embarrassment with something she said. As the camera slowly pans left and down, we hear him physically attack her. The dull thuds of punches echo out. We hear them, but we don’t see them. The camera’s obvious aversion to these stomach-churning events is powerful. We don’t see the violence. But then it’s domestic violence in someone else’s house. And you never do see that, do you?
There are shades here of the lockdown-released film The Invisible Man here. An adaptation of HG Wells’ classic tale of a malevolent scientist who wreaks havoc when he discovers a method of becoming entirely unseen, the 2020 version focused on domestic violence. With a strong female lead in Elizabeth Moss and some familiar – but effective – schlocky horror thrills, it was one of the unexpectedly better films of 2020. A taut and thought-provoking thriller with strong feminist principles, The Invisible Man used its detestable antagonist’s cloak of invisibility as a metaphor. Sometimes what you can’t see is more disturbing than what you can.
What this first episode of Angela Black shows us, quite clearly, is a fine performance from its lead, Joanne Froggat. Something of an ITV drama poster girl, the Downton Abbey and Liar star manages to convey Angela as not only fragile and frightened, but with a resolve and inner strength that seems likely to propel the show through its six-week run.
Michiel Huisman (The Flight Attendant, Game of Thrones) is menacing as Angela’s handsome, bullying husband, while Samuel Adewunmi (The Watch, The Last Tree) brings an intriguing mystery to his role as a private investigator hired by Olivier, but who defects to try and help Angela.
In terms of plot in this opener, let’s keep it simple: there’s a violent husband, a wife who wants to escape, talk of separation, a man hired to follow the wife to help the husband’s custody case, a change of heart from the investigator, a quiet decamping on his part, enquiries into a hitman and rumours of a previous murder committed (or commissioned) by the husband.
Okay, so the lines are drawn rather thickly at times. There isn’t much in the way of subtlety or nuance at work. The early mentions of the dangers of the benign-seeming hippos and unmuzzled dog at the rescue centre practically made clanging noises as they were dropped. The messaging, however, is clear. The tension and thrills are genuine, not to mention effective.
Are we likely to learn much about the nature and motivation of male-on-female domestic violence and abuse? Probably not. Are we going to be gripped and watch Angela get slowly pushed to the edge, only to turn it all around and get satisfyingly violent revenge on her vile husband? Oh, we very much assume – and hope – so.
Will we actually see that violent revenge? Or will the camera avert its gaze once again? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, what we almost certainly will see over the next five weeks appears to be a very effective and engaging drama. One with a lucid and essential message. And we’ll definitely be watching it.
What did you make of Angela Black episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on Angela Black episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
Television crime dramas are not great places to be an animal. True, the strong-willed women who are so often the lead characters rarely have it easy, and if you’re a school child frolicking in slow motion about a playground in the opening scene, there’s a very good chance you’re getting kidnapped – or worse. But if you’ve got four legs? Forget it. You’re toast.
It’s Sunday night, 9pm. You switch channels to the latest moody crime thriller. Cup of tea or glass of wine in hand, depending on how much you’re dreading Monday morning and the recommencement of the working week. Tension builds, the music lifts. There’s the main character. Okay. Nice house. Oooooh, he looks dodgy. So does he. You don’t trust that woman next door, either. It’s all getting a bit ominous. Uh oh. There’s a dog…
Pets rarely exist in the world of dark TV dramas for any reason other than to die a gruesome death. Which isn’t much fun for watching animal lovers. Us crime fiction fans can watch as many human murders as writers can throw at us, but cats nailed to sheds, beheaded Dachshunds and microwaved parrots are beyond the pale to a lot of folk.
Sunday night’s episode of ITV’s latest gripping psychological drama Angela Black came with a pre-title trigger warning: the following programme was to contain violence towards animals. ‘The bad guy’s gonna kill that dog,’ you think to yourself, forgetting that the first episode of this Joanne Froggatt-starring programme already made us watch the poor dog getting killed. Turns out it was the rabbit this time. RIP Flopsy. You’re in Fictional Animal Heaven now, along with all the other hundreds of pets we’ve had to watch die as plot points in TV dramas.
Onto the humans in Angela Black, all of whom are – currently – still alive. Mrs Black (Froggatt), abused by her thoroughly unpleasant husband, has been tipped off by a mysterious private investigator/fixer/sometime hitman-type Ed (Samuel Adewunmi) that her old man wants her dead. Suspicious but unconvinced, Angela is told that proof of his murderous nature lies inside her husband’s briefcase.
After the opening episode’s scene setting and atmosphere, in truth, this follow-up hour was a little disappointing. There are quite noticeable pacing issues here already. It’s all just a bit too slow. Effectively this entire episode was dedicated to whether or not Angela could sneak a peek into her husband’s work bag. Perhaps that was supposed to be the point, but instead of a ratcheting up tension and dread, we veered very closely to tedium at times. JUST OPEN THE BLOODY THING, ANGE!
Eventually, the briefcase opened, Angela seemed fairly convinced that her life was in danger. Meeting Ed to tell him she’d seen the proof, he gave her a lifeline: he’d kill Olivier for her, before Olivier got to her. Will she take him up on the offer? It’s tempting, but can she trust Ed…?
Froggatt is a steady presence here and Adewunmi is an excellent addition to the cast, even if he has been somewhat underutilised so far. It’s tempting to call Michiel Huisman hammy as Angela’s nefarious other half, but it’s not really the actor’s fault. His dialogue is generally all rather unconvincing and melodramatic. That’s absolutely fine for a schlocky piece of entertainment, but a distinct lack of realism does somewhat rob the programme of any true gravitas.
We’re still along for the ride and there’s enough here to keep us interested and watching. We’re just hoping for the pace to be picked up a tad next week. And for no more animals to be killed. Just for one week, at least.
Did you tune in for Angela Black episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…