Hollington Drive review – Anna Maxwell Martin radiates with rage like no one else

I am noticing a small but definite improvement in one thing (and one thing only – have you seen the world lately?). That is the depiction in TV drama of female – usually marital, for reasons we’ll gloss over here but send me an SAE if you want my full monograph – rage. It’s getting better and better. First, in terms of being present at all, and second in terms of precision. Examples include Annie Murphy as Allison in Kevin Can F*ck Himself, a show that deliberately subverts the sitcom wife role and allows Murphy to give a tremendous portrait of a woman on the edge. The pandemic-set two-hander Together, starring Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy, gave absolutely equal weight and specificity to the unravelling couple’s furious miseries. And the recent series of I Am … gave us, in Suranne Jones’s Victoria and Lesley Manville’s Maria, pitch-perfect models of the choking resentments that fester over a lifetime of trying to live within particularly female constraints.

Now we have Anna Maxwell Martin quietly seething and holding back oceans as Theresa, partner of Fraser (Rhashan Stone), mother of one and resident of Hollington Drive. It is the kind of leafy, affluent enclave that promises nothing can really go wrong within its moneyed embrace. Or, as Fraser’s brother and their current house guest Eddie (Ken Nwosu) sees it, “the perfect place for paedophiles. Plenty of kids. Quiet. Insular”. Who’s to say?

In ITV’s new four-part thriller, we first meet Theresa doing all the work as others enjoy a meal and a bright summer’s day in the garden. The silent resentment radiating from her as she concocts a careful salad (“It’s fine. It’s done now”) is as potent as the sunshine Fraser and other family members bask in outside. The latter include her vivacious sister – and nextdoor neighbour – Helen (Rachael Stirling), the headteacher of the local primary school, her colourless husband David (Peter McDonald), their daughter Eva (Amelie Bea Smith), Theresa’s own son Ben (Fraser Holmes) and Fraser’s teenage daughter Georgina (Tia May Watts). Against Theresa’s wishes, Fraser lets Ben and Eva go to the park alone. When she picks them up, she finds them bickering and lobbing something in the bin – an event that takes on new significance when their classmate Alex is reported missing and a police search for him begins.

It’s a nicely atmospheric, evocative first hour that plants lots of seeds that soon begin to take root and grow. Why are Theresa and Helen so close, and the former so tolerant of the latter’s overbearing attitude (“She drowns you,” says Fraser. “She treats you like some broken thing and you’re not. I hate the way you disappear around her”)? Why does she seem almost afraid of her own son and so suspicious of his every word and deed? What were the children putting in the bin and what are they failing to tell their mothers?

Flashbacks to violent scenes begin to suggest explanations, and there are enough twists and turns – including one that the trained eye knew to look for the moment it realised just how colourless Helen’s husband is, and a teacher’s confession to Helen that she was about to report Alex as having bruises and coming to school hungry and upset – to keep you hooked. The characters, including Alex’s suffering parents Jean and Gareth (Jodie McNee and Jonas Armstrong) and later the investigating police officer DS Parks (Jim Howick) are better drawn than you are really entitled to expect from new ITV four-part dramas. Likewise, the relationships between and among them, which also touch on wider issues such as class, make their fracturing under pressure that much more enjoyably credible. It’s a good story well told and the only bum note is Stirling, whose performance is so large it unbalances the whole thing and makes one wonder why a directorial note was not given at any stage. But overall it’s a fine addition to the suburban nightmare-trove.