Too Close review – could this ‘yummy mummy’ be a murderer?

一世s there a word for the unspeakable joy of coming across something that is simply better than it needs to be? I know we normally look to the Germans to have compounded something useful for us, but not usually in the realm of the positive.

I ask because – let’s face it – you can get away with a lot in an ITV drama. The Keeley Hawes vehicle Finding Alice did recently, with its veering tone and eventual slide in to absolute madness nevertheless being met with essential goodwill and gratitude for giving comedy drama a try in straitened times. Broadchurch series two was a dreary mess but audiences kept the faith and back it came (if not at full strength) for series three. And any number of others that have left vague, hazy memories of a perfectly passable hour behind but nothing to mark them out particularly – until perhaps you see the lead in something else, and know immediately that it’s him or her from that thing. That thing, you know the one we saw last year or maybe two or three years ago …

But Too Close, ITV’s latest offering – wisely, for such a claustrophobic piece, broadcast in its three parts on consecutive nights – will stay with you for the right reasons. It is a masterly adaptation by Clara Salaman of Natalie Daniels’ equally masterly 2019 thriller of the same name about a forensic psychiatrist, Emma. She is trying to assess whether Connie – a woman in a secure hospital, accused of the attempted murder of two children – is fit to stand trial. Connie claims to have no memory of the night when she drove her car off a bridge with two small children inside. It is Emma’s job to find out if her patient is faking her claim, and what compelled her to such an act. Is she the “yummy mummy murderer” the tabloids are busy painting her as, or is she a disturbed and desperate woman? And why should you not, 实际上, be both?

Emily Watson plays the dutiful psychiatrist – the kind of character in which she has in recent years come to specialise (most famously in Apple Tree Yard, for which she was Emmy-nominated). Emma is a quiet, slightly dowdy middle-aged woman who has become so used to subduing her inner life and roiling emotions that she has almost come to believe she hasn’t any, until circumstances change and the facade begins to crack. Watson plays this bereaved mother and dissatisfied wife, who is confronted with a case and a client almost perfectly designed to push her to the edge, beautifully and believably. Her client, Connie, is played with utter conviction – and I would be surprised if not award-winningly – by Denise Gough. In flashback she is sunny, with an edge. By the time we meet her in the “now” – charged, hospitalised – she is hostile, brittle and quickly engages Emma in what is, in its best moments, one of the most convincing psychological cat-and-mouse games I’ve seen on screen since the utterly magnificent Screen One trilogy A Wanted Man by Malcolm McKay.

As Connie needles and prods for the weak spots in Emma’s psyche, Emma elicits her background story. By the end of the opening episode it is clear that Connie’s actions on that fateful night are rooted in an intense and growing friendship with her new neighbour Ness (Thalissa Teixeira), a gay woman whose child was one of those in Connie’s car. But there is still plenty of fleshing out of these bare bones to come. What grips in the opening episode is its emotional intelligence, the acuity of the writing, the credibility and fluidity of the performances (including the more peripheral characters such as the protagonists’ husbands, or the smug guests round Emma’s dinner table). Susan Tully’s direction mirrors and enhances the web-like closeness of it all, as social, physical and mental boundaries are breached without suffocating the viewer.

With Tully behind the camera, Salaman as writer, Watson and Gough as leads, and the plot delivered entirely from their perspective, Too Close feels like the most woman-centred, woman-driven mainstream production we’ve yet seen. That’s a bonus. Too Close is a fantastically compelling, brilliantly scripted whydunnit that is unquantifiably better than it needs to be. We really do need a word for that.?




, , , ,