(Foxtel Go. Binge) (2023) Creators: Ginny Skinner, Penelope Skinner; Directed by Robbie McKillop and Nicole Charles.
The name and set-up of this sleek five-part ITV series leave the viewer suspecting a twist at the end. So that the reader will not be disappointed, we will tell you that the twist never comes. The narrative is pretty straightforward, if not always credible. But that’s ok. This is bite-sized entertainment of the fairly predictable, non-demanding type, with fairy-tale themes.
While pushing her bike around Oxford wearing a peculiar, self-designed red cape, our heroine, middle-aged sad-sack Alice Newman (Rebekah Staton) spots her Big Bad Wolf, the man known as Dr. Robert Chance (Alistair Petrie). Chance, under a different name, was her husband. He disappeared years ago, having cheated Alice, her family and friends in a fake investment scheme. Before and after his marriage to Alice, Rob cheated other women who, (or whose survivors) appear in documentary-like interviews from time to time. A nice touch. It’s rather odd that Alice hasn’t seen Dr. Chance before, because he is a well known eco warrior and intimate of Sir Ralph Unwin, (Sir Derek Jacobi) a David Attenborough type. Alice is reluctantly assisted in her plan to expose Chance by her father, Bill (Karl Johnson) and is suspected of insanity by her partner Benjy (Julian Barratt). Indeed, she appears unhinged and dazed most of the time. Rob, in the meantime, has inveigled himself into the affections of a famous fantasy writer, Cheryl Harker (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a lonely widow. Rob sets about undermining and defrauding her too, in the most heartless way. Alice befriends Cheryl. Rob moves into Cheryl’s dragon-themed mansion. Drugging, delusion and daftness ensue.
There are some questions. Why does Rob stay in the house when he’s been outed? What happened to Sir Ralph? Who was the mysterious man to whom Dr. Chance spoke frequently on the phone? Why did he deliberately allow himself to get badly burned during one of his earlier scams? Why didn’t Oxford University expose his doctorate as a fake? How did Alice get a comatose Rob upstairs?
It’s beautiful to watch, the main players are sterling, especially Petrie as the evil mastermind with a truly pathetic side. Jean-Baptiste is a delight. There’s overacting, interesting clothes, lovely interiors. The plot does require the suspension of belief at times, but this is a fairy tale after all, complete with white rabbits, knights, a maze and an evil-step-sister-like boss named Juno Fish (Romola Garai). It is uneven; in particular, a misplaced court scene and, in the final episode, a serious take on the injustice done to women both jar. The tone of the myth and magic party at the end is simply odd messy. An attempt at humour using a cliched movie line falls flat. Despite all that, it is fun to watch. It must have been fun to make.