Without You, ITV1, Thursday
After Life: The Strange Science of Decay, BBC4, Tuesday

Anna Friel puts in a leaden performance in a thriller in which very little rings true

Here's a conundrum: Greg and Ellie Manning are a thirtysomething Manchester couple.

She's a primary schoolteacher; he's an accountant. They're trying, a little desperately, for a baby. When Greg leaves for work one morning, they're both anticipating a night of strenuous, post-prandial baby-starting. That evening, Greg rings to tell Ellie he'll be late and she replies, "Be here by nine or don't bother coming home." Uh-oh. You just know she shouldn't have said that. He's not back at 9pm. At 9.45 there's a knock on the door. Ellie finds herself looking at two policemen, who inform her that her husband's dead. Car crash. Horrible burns. And incidentally, says the granite-faced lady cop, there was another woman in the car ...

The woman turned out to be Milena Livingstone, an events organiser; her website revealed that she was blonde and rather thrillingly glamorous. At the inquest, Ellie learned that the car went out of control in a dead-end road visited only by joy-riding kids "and shagging couples"; abruptly her mind was filled with lurid imaginings of Greg having his ear nibbled by Ms L. But she also learns a crucial detail: Greg, a chronic control freak, wasn't wearing a seatbelt when the car went off the road. As everyone around her assumes that her husband was having an affair, Ellie tries to prove them all wrong. "There's sumthin' not rahhhht about it," she says several times in Mancunian.

Without You is written by Charlotte Jones from a novel by Nicci French, the double-headed thriller team well known for the subtlety of their plots. Sadly, there's little subtlety here, in direction, characterisation or casting. I've watched too many thrillers where the action is advanced by a teensy piano figure (like in Don't Look Now) where consternation is expressed by a tilted camera, and misery by rain on a window. And the characters lacked credibility. Early on, we watched Ellie being warily loving in the kitchen with Greg, then kindly understanding in the classroom with a nervous kid. But Anna Friel's performance soon became a one-note, northern-harridan yell of suspicion to all. An old lady at the inquest told Ellie how lovely Greg had been with her, but something in Marc Warren's rodent face and cruel eyes makes it hard to imagine him a warm-hearted accountant. Making the enigmatic Milena a party planner seemed a pointless nod to the Middleton family. And Milena's lugubrious cuckolded husband ("I never expected exclusivity") seemed too old, too Londonish and too quickly convinced that his wife had been laying more than the tables when Greg was around. None of it rang true.

Part one ended on a cliff-hanger, as Ellie talked her way into Milena's business premises. I'll watch the outcome for Ms Friel's sake, but otherwise Without You was a bit Without Fire.

A different kind of post-mortem drama unfolded in After Life: The Strange Science of Decay, the record of an unsettling experiment. Dr George McGavin, a chortling, bearded Scottish expert on decay, rigged up a glass-walled kitchen with food and drink – a chicken, a whole pig, fish, fruit and vegetables, cheese, sandwiches, cakes, chilli con carne and bottles of wine – then left it to rot for eight weeks while he popped in with fellow experts to dilate on aspects of putrefaction.

Some of the programme was poetic ("The fate that awaits all things – to be broken down, to be recycled, to be reborn"); some rather boring (a long digression into supplying sandwiches to the US army); much of it was disgusting (I simply cannot bear to describe the unspeakable chicken), but much was fascinating. How colonies of bacteria send signals to each other like an invading army; how slime mould can find its way to food in the centre of a maze. After 30 days, 10,000 flies – mostly drunk from the alcohol in the fruit bowl – were wholly in charge. I bailed out on Day 44 when the beetles arrived and the Prof discovered 1,000 flies in a bottle of claret and insisted on presenting fistfuls under our noses. The hunger for knowledge can go only so far.

Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
Arts and Entertainment
Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, wrote a blog post attacking the app and questioning its apparent 'strong Christian bias'
Arts and Entertainment
Leading light: Sharma in London

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
    Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

    Election 2015

    Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
    Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

    Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

    The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
    The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

    The US is getting frayed at the edges

    Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
    Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

    New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

    A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
    Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
    Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

    Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

    Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
    Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

    Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

    He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
    How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

    Celebrating 100 years of Leica

    A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world