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Cheat review

Episodes: 4

Premiered: 2019

Duration: 45 min

A tense four-part psychological thriller, ITV’s Cheat explores the toxic relationship between university professor Leah Dale, played by Katherine Kelly, and her student Rose Vaughan, BAFTA winner Molly Windsor.

What starts life as what appears to be an open-and-shut case of academic dishonesty, soon spirals out of everyone’s control, proving there’s far more to the story than just a plagiarised essay. What lies behind the shocking events and tragedies that unfurl?

Cheat episode 1 review

Here’s hoping that you didn’t tune into the first episode of ITV1’s new drama Cheat with any particularly younger or older relatives in the room on Monday night… Only the first five minutes served up two really rather raunchy scenes indeed: one of a husband and wife attempting to conceive (albeit rather mechanically) and another of that same wife indulging in a stand-up knee-trembler in the toilets at work with a colleague… All by 9.08pm.

Okay, so it turned out that the second scene was merely a fantasy of Cambridge University lecturer Leah Dale, but still – it was certainly an eye-catching (and potentially face-reddening) start to proceedings.

If Leah is merely fantasising about such things, the ‘cheat’ of the title may not refer to her and her extramarital interests – and it doesn’t. The eponymous cheat is a young student named Rose Vaughan, played by BAFTA-winning Three Girls actress Molly Windsor.

This opening episode presented us with a modest and rather straightforward premise: a uni lecturer calls out a scheming student for cheating with her dissertation, the student flips and makes her lecturer’s life a living hell.

The drama began to unfold on ITV on Monday night, with the next three evenings bringing us the rest of the action.

Coronation Street and Happy Valley actress Katherine Kelly is Leah, a woman trying to fall pregnant, pass her probation at work and, seemingly, battle depression. In calling out her manipulative student for cheating, she sets up a dangerous showdown. Only the girl is quite capable – and quite willing – to destroy Leah’s life, as well as the life of her husband – and cat.

If only Rose put as much effort into her university work as she does into being an obsessive and Machiavellian master manipulator, she probably wouldn’t need to cheat quite so much. But cheat she does – and in doing so, she sets off a domino effect of rather nasty goings-on that should easily keep us glued to our TV sets for the rest of the week.

Cheat episode 1

For all the drama, duplicity and dread involved here, there were a few rather obvious mistakes sprinkled throughout this debut episode of Cheat that grated slightly. Perhaps they weren’t ‘mistakes’ as such and merely flourishes to massage and propel the plot. Pedantry or not, a few things stood out. Surely scores can’t be changed by lecturers that casually? And why was no plagiarism software used on Rose’s work? And while pet trackers exist, they’re GPS-based, not trackable by microchip… Then again, who said crime dramas have to be realistic…

While we’re on the subject of cats… Why do so many shows have to feature bad guys and girls killing pets nowadays? Humans? Go for it. It’s a crime drama – murder away. But leave the cats and dogs alone, eh?!

Things got a little less modest and straightforward towards the end of Monday night’s quarter slice of Cheat. A flashforward explains why the two women were separated by glass at the very start… Leah’s husband Adam (Tom Goodman-Hill) has been murdered. The assumption is that Rose is locked up for it and Leah is visiting her. But the scene is dangerously vague about who is sitting the wrong side of the screen in the prison waiting room.

“You’re still not convinced that we got the right one, are you?” DI Bould (Justine Mitchell) asks DI Hammond (Jimmy Akingbola) at one point here as he intently glares at an evidence board in that way that TV detectives are so fond of doing. “They both look so innocent,” he replies, staring at two photos: one of Leah and one of Rose…

This tale of two warring women may not quite be at the level of intrigue as last year’s standout crime drama Killing Eve, but it’s more than entertaining enough to keep us gripped and watching over the three nights.

Did you catch Cheat episode 1 on ITV1? What did you think of it? We’d love to hear…

Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

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Cheat episode 2 review

WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 1.

For what was effectively fifty minutes of two young women surreptitiously passing objects between one another, that was remarkably good television…

The opening episode of ITV1’s four-nights-in-a-row drama Cheat set things up rather nicely on Monday evening: an Oxbridge lecturer and a wily and scheming young student clash when the former calls the latter out for apparently cheating in a dissertation. The student takes the accusation badly and casually decides to completely and utterly ruin her teacher’s life.

We opened this second chapter with a recap of yesterday’s events, including that flashforward to university lecturer Leah Dale’s husband Adam lying lifeless on a mortuary slab. We also glimpsed the two detectives working the case. This plot development is something we’ll have to wait for, though. Adam remained alive and well throughout the entirety of Tuesday evening’s action.

Back to those objects we mentioned… A cat’s collar, a yellow rose, a petal from that rose, an engagement ring, a picture of Adam’s unmentionables… Leah (Katherine Kelly) and young student Rose (Molly Windsor) spent the majority of this follow-up episode stealing, planting, dropping and sending each other totems in what’s become an increasingly psychological and nasty game of cat n’ mouse.

Cheat episode 2

Speaking of cats, Leah gave Betsy the cat a proper garden burial here after Rose seemingly killed the poor moggy last night. The scheming Ms Vaughan wasn’t happy to leave her torment of Leah merely at felinecide, though. Her main goal here was to seduce Adam and further torment Leah with it, as well use a sexted photo of the man to blackmail her enemy into dropping her cheating charge.

What’s at the root of this burning hatred, though? To merely have a plagiarised essay at the heart of it all seems a little one dimensional. This is a drama from Two Brothers Productions, after all. Harry and Jack Williams, the writers behind The Missing, Baptiste and Rellik love their twists, turns and big reveals. Surely there’s something going on beyond the obvious here.

We certainly think so, anyway.

A couple of (non-rude) photographs seem to hint at that. One shows Rose apparently stalking Leah and Adam some three years earlier. The other – safely kept in a locked box in Rose’s room – is of Leah and her dad Michael, played by the esteemed Spooks actor Peter Firth. Do these snaps hint at a stronger connection between the two central characters?

We’re going to employ ‘the rule of Columbo‘ here and suggest that the most famous actor in the supporting cast must have a wider role to play in the story here. Leah’s dad could prove pivotal to the plot. But how?

Well, we found out that Leah’s mother committed suicide. It could be down to an affair she had with Leah’s father some two decades ago. Leah and Rose could, in fact, be half-sisters. That may be what’s driving the younger woman. Jealousy and resentment of a sibling.

Well, it’s a theory, at least.

We’re at the halfway stage with two episodes remaining and, we have to say, we’re gripped. What seemed a fairly limited initial concept has grown and evolved into a clever tale of obsession and manipulation that’s just introduced a real sense of dread that everything’s going to get tipped on its head very, very soon.

There was a telling moment here when Leah admitted to her doctor that earlier in the day she’d thought about tipping a hot cup of tea over her sleeping husband. Was that merely the idle thoughts of someone with depression? Or a hint at a darker side? Logic would tell you it’s Rose who kills Adam, but we’re not convinced, y’know…

Did you catch Cheat episode 2 on ITV1? What did you think of it? We’d love to hear…

Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

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Cheat episode 3 review

WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 2.

“Happy people don’t send photos of their genitals to a 21-year-old do they…?”

You can always trust a mum to come up with pearls of wisdom when you’re facing a life crisis and in need of advice, can’t you?

We nearly lost it at that pearl, uttered midway through Wednesday evening’s third episode of ITV1’s gripping nightly thriller Cheat. Delivered by Leah’s mum Angela (Unforgotten’s Lorraine Ashbourne), it was a killer line in what’s been an otherwise unfussy but solid script so far from screenwriter Gaby Hull.

Speaking of losing things, we saw plenty of that here in episode 3. Hot on the heels of Leah ‘losing’ her engagement ring in Tuesday’s instalment, here we witnessed lost phones, lost keys, lost inhibitions, lost tempers and, ultimately, a lost life.

We picked up the action with Rose forwarding the aforementioned photo to Leah just before her cheating review, effectively sabotaging it and keeping her place on the course. Retreating back to her parent’s house to mull over the state of their relationship, Leah left husband Adam free to wallow in his own self-pity and fondness for large tumblers of Scotch. In turn, that left the door open for Rose to strike…

One enigmatic text message later and a half-drunk Adam is risking his job and marriage for a sordid hook-up with a potentially psychotic young woman who’s obsessed with ruining his wife’s life. Twenty minutes of socks-on rolling around in a single bed later and Adam’s now a far bigger cheat than Rose ever was.

Cheat episode 3

As we suggested in our last review, Rose’s infatuation with Leah does, in fact, go beyond simple annoyance at being accused of cheating on her dissertation. Leah’s dad Michael (Peter Firth) is involved and is the father of both women. Leah and Rose are sisters. Much like we pontificated…

“Leah and Rose could, in fact, be half-sisters. That may be what’s driving the younger woman. Jealousy and resentment of a sibling.”

Sorry to brag. It’s not very modest of us, is it?

Anyway, it turns out that Professor Dale had conducted an illicit affair with his research assistant some 22 years previously. She fell pregnant, gave birth to Rose and fell into a deep depression, killing herself when Rose was a child.

Rose grew up into an angry and scheming young woman starved of affection from her distant businessman ‘father’ (Adrian Edmondson), and decided to seek out her real dad. He, it transpired, was less than pleased to hear from her and the obsession began.

It was an obsession that began with some light poking of Leah in lectures and ended up in her husband Adam’s murder…

As we look ahead to Thursday night’s fourth and final slice of Cheat, we find ourselves asking more than one question:

● Did Rose actually kill Adam? Or just wound him?
● Or was it Leah, instead, who finished the job?
● Who will be found guilty of the murder?
● Does Leah keep the baby?
● Was anyone else more upset by Betsy the cat’s murder than Adam’s, or was that just us?

Here’s hoping for some answers in the concluding part of this tense, fast-moving and thoroughly enjoyable week of drama.

Did you catch Cheat episode 3 on ITV1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Read Steve’s review of episode 4 here.

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

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Cheat episode 4 review

WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3.

In our review of episode 3 of ITV1’s newest drama Cheat, we ran through the main questions we wanted to be answered from its climax. Thankfully, there were no cliffhangers and we ran into the credits fully satisfied…

It was touch and go for a while as to who really killed Leah’s lecturer husband and who would end up in prison for the crime. While it seemed obvious that Rose was responsible, things are rarely as they seem in TV crime dramas. So there was every chance that the rug was going to be pulled from under us. But, alas, no. It really was Rose.

In the end, she served two years in prison after convincing everyone that she had acted in self-defence. But it wasn’t until the end of this last slice of the Cheat pie that she confessed in full to Leah that it was flat-out cold-blooded murder. She did so behind glass in jail, so she’ll have been hoping no one was recording the conversation…

Cheat episode 4

As for the final scene…? Sorry to bang this drum YET AGAIN, but what is it with all the pet killing in TV crime dramas at the moment?! It seems almost par for the course that the bad guy will stab a dog or cat at some point. Cheat’s first episode saw Rose killing Leah and Adam’s cat. And the very final scene here had Rose’s infatuated uni porter henchman Ben Jarvis (Game of Thrones’ Burn Gorman) knifing Leah’s non-biological father’s Labrador, Hunter – before presumably doing similar with the man himself. Someone needs to get the RSPCA involved in these things… We might start a petition.

So, then. ‘Cheat’. Adam was a cheat. Michael was a cheat. But did Rose cheat on her dissertation? Okay, so it doesn’t really matter all that much. Calls us pernickety but we quite wanted to find that out. Ah, well. Never mind.

All other loose ends were tied up nicely here in the final episode. But with the big reveal coming in Wednesday night’s Cheat, there was a vague feeling here that a little of the tension and drama had been lost somewhat. The quality was still there, though, so very few viewers will themselves have felt cheated by the events of this conclusion.

That said, there’s an argument to be made that avoiding schlocky twists-for-the-sake-of-twists lends a drama a certain air of assurance and maturity. Surprise endings can be fun, but they can often veer into the ridiculous and betray the previous hours viewers invested in the thing. There was none of that here though as we got a resolution that made sense, even if it may have resulted in a slight lack of wow factor. So kudos to Cheat – and its writer Gaby Hull – for that.

So we’ve seen more tense and dramatic finales on television before. But overall? This was another solid week of high-end drama from ITV. Much like Matthew Arlidge and Chris Lang’s 2018 4-nights-in-a-row Innocent, Cheat’s tale of obsession, betrayal, infidelity, manipulation, revenge and murder kept us gripped all week.

Keep up the good work, ITV.

Did you catch Cheat episode 4 on ITV1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

1 Comment

    So.. i know that 2 years is a long time.. but surely ben jarvis should gave been charged for obstruction of justice.. lying to the police about putting a call through to Rose!!!

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