fri 10/04/2020

Penance, Channel 5 review - lust, disgust and mistrust in Kate O'Riordan's thrilller | reviews, news & interviews

Penance, Channel 5 review - lust, disgust and mistrust in Kate O'Riordan's thrilller

Penance, Channel 5 review - lust, disgust and mistrust in Kate O'Riordan's thrilller

Slow-burning mystery needs more screen time to develop

Big mistake: Rosalie (Julie Graham) and Jed (Nico Mirallegro)

Adapted by Kate O’Riordan from her own novel, Penance is a taut little thriller spread over three consecutive nights.

Adapted by Kate O’Riordan from her own novel, Penance is a taut little thriller spread over three consecutive nights. It’s not going to rock the planet off its axis, but there’s enough twisty and salacious intrigue to keep you coming back.

There’s a deluxe, feature-film-like quality about the production, and its pedigree cast doesn’t hurt. Julie Graham plays Rosalie Douglas, a 50-ish former care-worker who now runs three of her own care homes. Her husband Luke is played by Neil Morrissey, who seems to have cornered the market on weak, feckless husbands and carries on the tradition here. Rosalie’s confidante is Father Tom, imbued with suitably priestly unction by Art Malik.

Probably because the story has been compressed into a meagre three episodes, there isn’t quite enough screen time to establish the idea of the Douglases as a happy family. We get a glimpse of Rosalie preparing a Christmas meal to welcome home her backpacking son Rob when the mood is shattered by the police arriving on the doorstep.They reveal that Rob has been drowned in a swimming accident in Thailand.

Suddenly they’re an unhappy family. Daughter Maddie goes off the rails and falls in with a gang of druggie, vodka-swilling lowlifes. Luke has an affair with someone called Wendy. Rosalie, who doesn’t believe that her champion-swimmer son could have simply drowned, mumbles helplessly that she’s “lost herself”. Perhaps Father Tom’s therapy group could help? Why yes. Here, Maddie and Rosalie meet Jed (Nico Mirallegro), a sad orphaned boy now feeling alone in the world after the death of his poor old nan. Before long, he’s Maddie’s boyfriend.

But he’s playing a longer game. Creepily, he seems to have sexual designs on Rosalie, appearing shirtless in her kitchen, giving her longing looks and standing much too close to her. To her horror, Rosalie finds herself unable to resist him, and even starts having steamy erotic dreams. Whisking together themes of trust, betrayal and the disillusionments of middle age, Penance becomes a slippery slope towards purgatory as a bigger, uglier picture steadily unravels. It’s a shame the slow-burn story wasn’t given more screen time in which to develop.

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters