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…
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Still catching up on Angela Black episode 3? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
Last week, in our review of Angela Black’s second episode, we complained a little about television drama’s over-reliance on animal cruelty and death as a narrative device. The first two instalments saw a German Shepherd put to sleep and a pet rabbit eviscerated. We’re pleased to report that while that theme did carry onto the third week here, we only needed to put up with a spider being splattered with a squash racquet. Perhaps next Sunday it’ll only be a squashed gnat and then we’ll have weaned ourselves off the animal murder altogether.
It was, however, human murder that was top of the agenda here in this episode of the psychological thriller. Convinced by shady private eye Ed that her old man wants to off her, Joanne Froggatt’s eponymous character came to the conclusion that the only way to stay alive was to strike first and agree to let Ed kill Olivier. The plan? To drug her other half, put him to bed and let Ed in to finish the job while she ‘ran for help’.
An edgy and fraught extended scene saw the attempt play out, but to no avail. Ed was unable to kill Olivier and, apparently, was forced to slink off having not carried out the murder. Which all seemed a little suspect. But then Ed as a character has always seemed a little suspect. So much so, we learn, that he may not exist. At least not outside of Angela’s psyche, anyway. Think about it – he’s not spoken to any other character. It’s all very Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. Or, perhaps, it’s slightly more like another film from 1999, Fight Club.
Another reason to suspect that there’s some Fight Club-style business on the go here comes from a moment where Angela revealed her surname to be ‘Meyer’. Now, of course, Black could simply be Angela’s maiden name. But given she’ll be married for the course of the entire series, to give it that title seems suggestive. Is, as we suspect, ‘Angela Black’ something of a pseudonym? An alias that she uses when she breaks bad? Is Angela Black her Tyler Durden…?
There’s even a case to be made that Olivier may well be entirely innocent. After all, the only violence we’ve ‘seen’ has been off screen. The audience hasn’t actually witnessed any of it. Has Angela been faking her bruises? Have we been seeing everything through her eyes, a warped version of events? If so, it seems likely that the murder of Olivier’s former mistress Yuki might have been committed by Angela.
And this is all without exploring what exactly ‘Edgewater’ is all about…
Of course, this theory is all rather anti-Angela. And given we left her in a prison cell after she’d been well and truly set up by her thoroughly unpleasant husband, it may seem quite an unfair hypothesis. Yet with two hours left, it’s almost certain there are more than a few twists in the tale left. The most realistic of which would be this:
Ed is real and is working for Olivier. Olivier is a nasty piece of work and did kill Yuki. Olivier hired Ed to psychologically manipulate Angela; to make her think she’d had a mental breakdown – with whatever ‘Edgewater’ is having previously shown that she’s susceptible to such things – and have her committed, so he can take custody of the children…
That’s our theory anyway and we’re sticking to it.
The intrigue level has definitely shot up here at the midway point of the series. After a promising start, things sagged somewhat last week. But after some genuine tension here in episode three, we’re left asking ourselves a whole heap of questions about what’s going on, not overly sure of any of the answers. And that’s precisely where we want to be with a drama like this.
Did you tune in for Angela Black episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
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Spoilers for Angela Black episode 4 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
Airing on Hallowe’en night, the fourth instalment of ITV’s psychological thriller Angela Black presented its audience a fair smattering of subtle horror. Thankfully by 9pm, most of the kids in the neighbourhood had traipsed back home with their carrier bags full of Tangfastics and left us in peace to enjoy this unnerving drama series.
Although spacious and relatively calm, with caring support staff and what looks like a fairly decent coffee machine, the women’s mental health unit that Angela now finds herself in is a shock to Joanne Froggatt’s character. She’s in there because she’s – apparently – suffering some kind of psychosis.
The enigmatic PI and part-time hitman Ed Harrison (Samuel Adewunmi) that she’s got pally with of late is just a figment of her imagination, we’re told. He’s not real but is, in fact, inspired by a cheap airport page turner called Behind Closed Doors by a writer called, yup, Ed Harrison – a novel Angela’s vile husband Olivier (Michiel Huisman) helpfully packed for her stay at the hospital.
Now, of course, at the two thirds stage, we know that there’s plenty more to come from the series in terms of plot and twists. So Angela, it’s fairly clear to see, isn’t suffering a mental health breakdown. She’s being gaslit in a really quite elaborate way. This becomes clear to her only after she’s left the facility and is attempting to piece together what’s happened and happening. Ed, it transpires, is entirely real. Even if that’s probably not his name. Next week should reveal the fella’s true motivations and story.
The present day goings-on moved at a decent pace and pushed the story along nicely here. This fourth episode’s strongest points came in the flashbacks, however. For three weeks now we’ve wondered what ‘Edgewater’ is, having been teased about it plenty. We’ve not really known much about Angela and Olivier’s early marriage either. Here, we learned a little.
Edgewater, we find out, is a leisure centre – a swimming pool where Angela experienced a serious psychotic break after a long and arduous spell of postnatal depression. How she managed to keep her child after the incident we’re not so sure. We also found out how Angela’s mother – who also suffered from postpartum depression – reached out to her daughter as she was dying, but Olivier kept it from her – isolation being a major tool in the coercive controller and abuser’s armoury.
The scenes of Angela’s depression were excellently crafted here. They were really quite hard to watch. We see her mentally unravel slowly in a steady montage of clips in which her newborn won’t stop crying. The wailing is shrill, urgent and relentless. We’re bombarded with the noise; it’s a clever – if risky – tactic. Five minutes doesn’t sound long, but it’s a long time to hear a baby crying so piercingly. We’re being shown what it was like. ‘If you think five minutes is annoying, imagine being the mother,’ we’re effectively being told.
For Angela to wrestle back control of her life and make sure she has a future with her children, she’s going to need to untangle the web of lies and deceit that her swine of a spouse has spun. First stop – finding out about ‘Ed’. That will surely come in next Sunday evening’s penultimate part of Angela Black.
It’s been an engaging and handsome drama so far, with a strong lead performance. The plotting isn’t hugely original and most twists in the tale have been somewhat telegraphed, but it’s a vital examination into the complexities of domestic abuse. For too long, the subject has been skirted over by TV dramas.
Not all abuse is physical; threats, insults, humiliation, isolation, restriction of independence and intimidation form a pattern of abuse that can seem ‘normal’ – or at least less obvious under the traditional banner of ‘domestic abuse’. Here we see those behaviours play out and just how insidious but destructive and truly cruel they are.
Hopefully next week starts to see Angela Meyer turn to Ms Black as she takes her life back and wreaks revenge on the man who callously snatched it from her.
Did you tune in for Angela Black episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
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Some spoilers for Angela Black episode 5 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 4 here.
Regular visitors to this website will know that we love crime drama here. Regular visitors will also, quite likely, love it themselves. We’ve all read so many detective novels and watched so many whodunits through the years, most of us fancy ourselves as amateur Poirots or Veras. Give us a mystery to crack and we’d back ourselves to solve it, wouldn’t we?
We already know that Angela Black loves to devour page turners. Her avid reading of thriller novels has already proved to be a plot point here in the ITV series named after her. As a crime fiction fan, she clearly fancies herself as something of a part-time Jessica Fletcher or Hetty Wainthropp too. Only here in episode 5, Angela turns detective in quite an impressive way.
She’s tracked ‘Ed’ down. His real name is Theo Walters and he’s working with Olivier, helping him set Angela up. Why? Well, it’s something of a Strangers on a Train-style bad deed trade-off. Olivier helped Theo burn down his failing business for the insurance money. All of this was neatly worked out by Detective Inspector Angela Black.
Somewhat frustratingly for the audience, Angela then immediately relayed everything she’d learned to her abusive husband, allowing him to re-calibrate his plans and continue to keep her away from her children. We understand that he likely still exerts control over her, but c’mon Ange – you have to keep mum to be a mum here…
This week’s Hitchcockian tension is squeezed out of a scene in which Angela returns to her old home to pick up her belongings. Husband kept outside by a policeman, she uses the time to rifle through Olivier’s meticulously kept accounts for printed proof of his dodgy dealings with Ed Harrison/Theo Walters, with one eye firmly on the CCTV feed to make sure Olivier is where he should be.
We ended with another sickening show of aggression by Angela’s hopefully soon-to-be ex-husband after she went to confront him once again later on. But given we now know about the camera that films the front door, will the footage of him strangling his wife be pivotal in next week’s conclusive episode…?
Five episodes in and we’re still watching and keen to see how Angela Black resolves itself. That said, we can’t quite claim to be too gripped by events. There’s a definite feeling here that there’s four episodes of plot stretched over six parts, leaving quite long stretches of thrill-free goings-on. There’s style and panache, but it’s been hard to invest in the main character at times. Joanne Froggatt does a decent enough job with what she has to work with, but hers is somewhat of a thankless job. You feel for Angela, you just don’t really warm to her all that much.
Oh, by the way… Recognise the estate that Theo lives on? It’s the Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate in north west London, a Brutalist work of art/eyesore (depending on your views on architecture) seen in countless TV dramas and films down the years. Prime Suspect, Spooks, Silent Witness, London Spy, Hard Sun, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Waking the Dead and The Little Drummer Girl have all filmed there. A little bit of bonus trivia for you there.
So, then. Next Sunday’s instalment is Angela Black’s last. We’ll be tuning in, keen to see how things wrap up. It’s doubtful the six-parter will top too many TV fans’ Best of the Year lists, but as Sunday night drama, it’s been a worthy enough addition to the listings, and an important glimpse into the disturbing world of coercive control. It feels a little callous to say it given the subject matter, but it’s just a slight shame it hasn’t been a more entertaining glimpse.
Did you tune in for Angela Black episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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Spoilers for Angela Black episode 6 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 5 here.
Strangers on a train get talking. The two men bond and exchange their own personal tales of woe. As strangers on that train they both feel a certain freedom to open up with one another. After all, neither knows the other. Which gets them to thinking. What if these strangers on a train took advantage of their chance meeting and acted as agents of change in each others’ lives? Did something the other couldn’t really do. Swapped nefarious crimes, safe in the knowledge that they’d have no motive and provide the other stranger on the train with an alibi…
Sound familiar? Well, of course. That’s the plot of ITV’s six-part thriller series Angela Black. Okay, okay, it’s also the exact same plot as a slightly higher profile piece of crime fiction – Patricia Highsmith’s perfectly-titled Strangers on a Train, a famous novel of 1950 made even more infamous by Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name made just a year after the book’s publication.
Was it a cheap trick to ‘steal’ the plot here? Well, you could argue that if it were a little more subtle. But such is the blatant nature of the lift here, we can only surmise that the prolific writing brothers Harry and Jack Williams (The Missing, Liar, Rellik, Baptiste) are merely paying homage to Highsmith and Hitchcock’s work. Especially ol’ Alf, from whom they and the director have borrowed more than a fair few cinematic devices, techniques and styles over this past month and a half.
In truth, Angela Black – while more than watchable – hasn’t really been able to fully deliver on its stylistic promises. There just wasn’t quite enough meat on the bones, if you like. Imaginative cinematography, an impressive score and a general air of confidence suggested there was slightly more to the series than was really served up. Sadly, this climactic episode was yet another example of this.
As a case in point, there really is a finite amount of tension that you can apply to driving down the M4 and hiring a caravan in Wales. So when Angela took the kids out of school and headed west, the creeping dread of the score and the atmospheric camerawork smacked of overkill. To be fair, anxiety levels did rise as Olivier worked out where the three of them had gone and went after them.
After that, Angela went back into full-on detective mode once more and set to work digging up the past, working out the Strangers on a Train thing and hatching a plan to get even. With both men.
What could have been a grim examination of the nature of domestic abuse and coercive control ended up being a somewhat schlocky revenge piece that lost focus on its overall themes. Thankfully, Joanna Froggatt gave more than enough in the lead to have us viewers on her side, so at least we were all backing her to get even with her vile husband Olivier and, to a lesser extent, Theo.
Altogether it was a pleasing enough conclusion to a series which started out with promise but struggled to justify its 300-minute running time. This felt like a three or four-parter stretched out unnecessarily for a couple of extra weeks. The visual flair of the thing was welcome and the Hitchcockian feel was pulled off perfectly. It’s just a shame there wasn’t a little more to Angela Black to really want to see Angela back.