sun 26/05/2024

Doctor Foster, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Doctor Foster, BBC One

Doctor Foster, BBC One

Marital revenge drama is implausible but riveting

Gripped by the green-eyed monster: Suranne Jones as Doctor Foster

Doctor Foster takes its name from a nursery rhyme, but don’t be lulled. From the moment its brunette protagonist finds a long blonde hair on her husband’s scarf, we are hurtling headlong into a revenge drama.

Doctor Foster – known to her pals as Gemma and played by that nice Suranne Jones – is already Googling vengeance literature and taking her cue from Congreve: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,/Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” After one act, and four to go, it promises to get horribly ugly.

To begin with Doctor Foster looks like a jeopardy-free midweek drama set somewhere blamelessly dull. Scriptwriter Mike Bartlett has possibly seen Doc Martin and challenged himself to match its risk-averse flavour. Gemma, it appears, is happy. She and her scrummy husband Simon (Bertie Carvel, cheerfully convincing) sneak in a crafty shag before she heads to work, where she runs a thriving GP practice whose patients are mainly nagging hypochrondriacs. They have a model son and a supportive network of friends. Naturally, it’s all too good to be true.

Suranne Jones inhabits the role of the wronged woman with burning intensity

“You two are fantastic,” says her chum. “A hair is just a hair.” But we’d have no drama if the green-eyed monster could be averted so easily. Gemma embarks on a bit of private sleuthing, and by accident discovers that her husband’s office closes far earlier than he ever returns home. What’s he up to every day in the interim? She tails him, then enlists a needy patient to spy for her, in return for medication. By the end of the episode, at a cheerful barbie for his 40th birthday, she has uncovered evidence that his deception has outstripped even her grimmest fears.

Bartlett’s recent vertical rise has mostly been in the theatre (although his drama The Town was on ITV in 2012). Plays like Bull (office politics), Love, Love, Love (family in-fighting) and even King Charles III (jumbo constitutional crisis) served notice of an unerring eye for high dramatic stakes. His tele-plotting has a devil-may-care attitude to the rules of plausibility: the level of the betrayal seems impossibly steep, and it’s hard to credit that a man could construct quite such a double life with only a hair to give him away.

But then this is a drama about exposing a plausible liar, in which cause Gemma is all too quick to lie herself. Half demented by jealousy, she is even casual about her Hippocratic oath: one scene in which she challenges her spy’s abusive boyfriend serves vicarious notice of the lengths to which she’ll be prepared to go. Suranne Jones inhabits the role of the wronged woman with burning intensity. We’ve already heard Simon isn’t a confident swimmer. Put your money on an aquatic misadventure. It's bonkers, with false notes aplenty, but it is rather riveting.

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