The Light in the Hall, review: a solid crime drama soaked in Welsh rain and cliché

Joanna Scanlan plays Sharon in The Light in the Hall - Alistair Heap/Channel 4
Joanna Scanlan plays Sharon in The Light in the Hall - Alistair Heap/Channel 4

Do you enjoy a drama about a grieving mother confronting the man convicted of murdering her teenage daughter, only to suspect that he may not be the real killer? Then you’re in luck. On ITVX there is Without Sin, starring Vicky McClure. And on Channel 4 we have The Light in the Hall. The latter is set in Wales, and the former isn’t, but other than that you could keep switching between the two and still keep track of the plot.

Joanna Scanlan is Sharon, whose daughter, Ela, was murdered 18 years earlier. The drama’s title comes from the fact that Sharon has kept the hallway light on since the day Ela disappeared – a hopeless gesture, since she knows that her daughter is dead, but a sign that she can’t move on. She is horrified to learn that Ela’s killer, Joe Pritchard (Iwan Rheon), has been released from prison.

The first of these six episodes unfolds at a glacial pace, enlivened only by the obligatory Annoying Female Journalist character (Alexandra Roach), who was a friend of the murdered girl and returns to West Wales in the hope of getting a scoop. At least she’s not turning it into a true-crime podcast.

Episode one is all a bit bleak and ponderous but I ended up watching the whole series and the pace does pick up. It turns into a thriller, albeit not an especially thrilling one, with a list of suspects drawn from the tiny rural community. Scanlan, a Bafta-winning actress, is the biggest name and gives an affecting portrait of grief, but it is members of the supporting cast who catch the eye, including Ifan Huw Dafydd as Joe’s forbidding father.

As Joe, Rheon has the duff role – his character claims not to be able to remember anything about the murder, so his entire performance consists of looking confused and anguished but having nothing at all to say.

The screenwriter, Regina Moriarty, previously worked as a tutor in the probation service and she has clearly given thought both to the bigger picture – the anger and helplessness felt by victims’ families – and the detail of how prisoners are released into society. But she descends into cliché when it comes to the plot, particularly with Cat the tenacious journalist (sleeping with the boss and creating an evidence board by sticking Post-it notes on the wall of her flat). Because it’s set in Wales, it also begins with a soundtrack of bleating sheep.

All episodes of The Light in the Hall are available now on All 4