Too Close (ITV) begins with an unthinkable act. Driving at night in pouring rain, with her daughter Annie (Isabelle Mullally) and her friend Ness’s daughter Polly (Thea Barrett) in the back seats, Constance Mortensen (Denise Gough) comes to a barrier at an open bridge. She pauses for a moment, peering into the darkness beyond, before flooring the accelerator and driving into the water.
Connie survives, just about, to become a tabloid sensation, the “Yummy Mummy Monster”. We meet her in a secure psychiatric ward in north London, where she has been confined for assessment. Battered and bruised from the crash, she swings psychotically between lucidity and rage. She claims not to remember what happened. It’s the job of Dr Emma Robertson (Emily Watson) to work out whether she is telling the truth. Depending on Emma’s verdict, Connie could be sentenced to 30 years in jail, or be back shopping in Waitrose within months.
With the radical honesty of a woman with nothing left to lose, Connie turns Emma’s questions back on her. Is her own life so perfect? Does she not suffer ennui? Is her marriage to barrister Si (Risteárd Cooper) a sexless sham? Some of Connie’s observations have a vaguely undergraduate quality, but they do the trick. Emma is plunged into her own crisis. As Connie prods Emma with ever more biting provocations, a kind of reverse Stockholm Syndrome sets in, in which the doctor comes to crave her patient’s insight. Rather than the central question of Connie’s culpability, we wonder if Emma’s domestic life can survive her involvement in the case.
While Emma starts to pull at the loose threads, in flashback we learn how Connie went from being the Jo Malone-soused epitome of boho bourgeoisie, to an English Aileen Wuornos. Things are already tricky with her depressed husband Karl (Jamie Sives) when she meets her glamorous new neighbour Ness (Thalissa Teixeira) in the park. Ness’s partner is a woman, and her frank sensuality seems to promise a freedom Connie’s life has been missing. Needless to say, things don’t go to plan.
Written by the novelist and former actor Clara Salaman, this three-part psychological thriller is one of ITV’s most anticipated series of 2021, for obvious reasons. In Gough and Watson, it unites two intelligent and feeling actors over a twisting script that rakes over a full suite of middle-class anxieties: sex, class, parenting, race, fashion, even interior design gets it in the neck. At times, it’s more like a play than a TV series: sharp and involving, but occasionally somewhat static. Kitchen sink, but Villeroy & Boch rather than Argos. The efficient direction echoes the mood, sapping the energy and movement not just from the interview scenes, but from the apparently happy lives outside them. Gough’s part, in particular, is the kind actors dream of: an opportunity to play a character right at her limit, with repulsive make-up and every emotion in the book. You won’t see more blatant awards fodder this year, but that doesn’t mean Too Close won’t win them, or that they’ll be undeserved.
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