By now, Joanne Froggatt is surely the first lady of ITV drama. Post-Downton Abbey (or, at least, post-Downton’s TV incarnation — she’ll venture below stairs again for the sequel to the wildly lucrative film spin-off, arriving in cinemas next year), she has starred in a string of the channel’s prestige dramatic offerings, perhaps most notably in Liar, a thriller from sibling screenwriting duo Jack and Harry Williams.
That drama centred around a rape accusation — and, in throwing doubt on the accuser’s testimony for the first few episodes, sparked considerable debate — before seguing into a slightly overwrought murder mystery (with the addition of Froggatt’s fellow ITV patron saint Katherine Kelly) in its second series. Now Froggatt has reunited with the Williamses (who also wrote The Missing for the BBC, and produced Fleabag) to take the lead role in Angela Black, another psychological thriller grappling with weighty subject matter, this time domestic abuse and coercive control.
They quickly sketch out a chilling portrait of a marriage that looks perfect from the outside but is rotten within. As the series opens, Angela and husband Olivier (Michiel Huisman) are drinking red wine with their friends, framed in the floor-to-ceiling window of their minimalist home, which seems to have been magicked from the pages of a Modern House brochure. You can feel the air slowly drain from the room when Angela makes a remark that Olivier takes exception to; once their guests have left, he twists her words back at her and accuses her of deliberately embarrassing him.
We don’t see the assault that follows, just its aftermath, with a single tooth left lying on the expensive wooden floor. It’s a horribly powerful image. Soon after we see Angela in the dentist’s chair with a bruised lip, making up a not overly convincing story about one of her sons opening a door onto her face, which she repeats to her colleagues at the animal shelter and to fellow parents at the school gate.
No one bothers to probe any further, of course — until she crosses paths with Ed (Samuel Adewunmi) while out for a drink. When he asks why she has not yet told the police about her attacker (she doesn’t spell out who the culprit is, but Ed seems pretty aware of the subtext), she reminds him: “You don’t always act the way you think you would, do you? You think you’ll fight back or scream or do something, anything, not just stand there and let it happen.”
It’s not long before Ed pops up again. Their meeting at the pub, it seems, was far from coincidental: he is a private investigator, who has been tasked with digging up dirt on Angela. This series has been pitched as Hitchcockian, but Ed’s revelation about who has hired him, and to what end, seems to have been nabbed from a Victorian sensation novel instead. Can she trust him, and could he be offering her an escape route? Things get far murkier when he appears a third time, looming outside her massive window on a rainy night, with another sinister dispatch.
This final act reveal is, frankly, a little overcooked, and feels strangely tacked on; it’s symptomatic of some uneven pacing throughout the first episode, where restrained and sensitively handled domestic scenes sometimes sit discordantly alongside the thriller elements. Perhaps it will take a while to integrate the two plot lines — indeed, the second instalment presents a marked improvement on this score.
There are enough hints to hidden secrets (what happened at Edgewater, and why does its very mention seem to shake Angela so entirely?) and strong performances, though, to make this worth persisting with. Huisman, so winning as Kaley Cuoco’s ghostly love interest in The Flight Attendant earlier this year, has been cast firmly against type and makes a deeply sinister Olivier, a master gaslighter who is one moment charming, then wheedling, then terrifying (he also has that horror movie habit of turning up just when Angela is about to make a bid for freedom, or of snapping his eyes open just as she is about to secure a vital clue). Froggatt, meanwhile, is a performer you always want to root for, and she gives Angela plenty of nuance. May the ITV star vehicles keep coming.
Angela Black continues Sundays at 9pm on ITV and is available to stream on the ITV Hub