Insomnia on Paramount+ review: Vicky McClure can't save this tired thriller

Insomnia on Paramount+ review: Vicky McClure can't save this tired thriller

It aims to give you nightmares, but Paramount+’s Insomnia is more soporific than anything else.

This six part adaptation of Sarah Pinborough’s novel of the same name begins with a promising premise. Married and successful mother-of-two Emma (Vicky McClure) is approaching her 40th birthday when she stops sleeping and becomes prone to spacing out and forgetting things.

More worryingly, she realises she has also started a nightly ritual of frantically chanting and scribbling numbers, lighting candles and wading out into the family’s pond. Perfectly normal stuff.

It’s behaviour she seems unconscious of and it is disturbingly similar to that of her own mother Patricia (Corinna Marlowe), who had a psychotic breakdown at the age of 40.

Just to ram the point home, Patricia tells Emma, in a flashback, that she has “bad blood”. Not the fun, Taylor Swift variety either, as Emma and her sister end up being taken into care.

To make things worse, the series kicks off with Emma getting news that the same mother is on her deathbed – and at the hospital, she is reunited with her older sister Phoebe (Leanne Best). It’s clear there are decades of issues to unpack here.

Problems in bed... Tom Cullen as Robert Averill (David Emery/Left Bank/Sony Pictu)
Problems in bed... Tom Cullen as Robert Averill (David Emery/Left Bank/Sony Pictu)

Meanwhile, Emma’s unravelling state is putting promotion at her legal firm at risk and heaping further strain on her marriage to Robert (Tom Cullen). Add in to that is some teenage rebellion served from her daughter Chloe (India Fowler) who has a mysterious new “friend” that she won’t tell her folks about, and within a few days, her enviable life is at risk of collapsing.

As Robert tells Emma, “you have a lot on”, and in fact it’s too much for the series to cope with. The sisters feud. The daughter rages and storms around. The couple’s younger son, William (Smylie Bradwell) seems to pop up on cue to see his mother at her worst, usually wading out of the pond (they should really get that filled in).

The truth of the cause of the insomnia could have been revealed much earlier but instead we’re left drowning in never-ending family subplots as yet another character is introduced in Caroline (Lyndsey Marshal) who befriends Emma after the tired protagonist almost runs her over.

Having too many places to be, director Börkur Sigthorsson attempts to point the camera in as many directions at once. Pinborough’s story might have worked on paper but here the script (which she also wrote) is fragmented and dialogue veers between basic and banal.

Even half an episode dedicated to serving a brewing friendship between Phoebe and Robert makes the pair converse as if they are sharing a lift – not having a cosy knees up with a bottle of wine.

Vicky McClure and Corrina Marlowe (Amanda Searle/Left Bank/Paramoun)
Vicky McClure and Corrina Marlowe (Amanda Searle/Left Bank/Paramoun)

McClure has been lighting up better TV thrillers such Trigger Point and Line of Duty for the best part of a decade and is decent again here, even if the script only ever calls for her to give an eternal look of ‘just about holding it together’.

On the flip side, Cullen (best known for The Gold) and Fowler (The Nevers) deliver little more than the caricatures of put-upon husband and emotion-driven teenager they’re asked to deliver.

Being produced by Left Bank Pictures for Paramount it looks good but with its strained dialogue and narrative choices approaching cringeworthy, it does also feel like you’re watching a very expensive soap opera.

And like any good soap, it’s undemanding and juicy enough to make you come back for more. Insomnia was perhaps aiming to be Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects but ends up being more of a bad dream.

Insomnia will air on Paramount+ from May 23