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Passenger on ITV review: Wunmi Mosaku shines but this cop drama is a bit of a mess

Andrew Buchan may be familiar to audiences for his portrayals of real life members of the establishment from Matt Hancock in This England to Andrew Parker Bowles in The Crown.

In something of a left turn, he is now making his writing debut on ITV in the "dark comedy-thriller" Passenger. On the basis of this, sadly, it may have been better to stick to the day job.

Buchan transports us to the fictional town of Chadder Vale, Lancs, where down-on-her-luck detective inspector Riya (Wunmi Mosaku) has retired from the Met in order to nurse her ex-husband’s ailing mother. Understandably, she’s hankering for a case to provide her life with some excitement.

As luck would have it, one comes along after a local woman goes missing. Oh and something possibly monstrous is roaming the woods. From the camerawork, whatever this thing is likes hiding in the trees and induces traumatic hallucinations in those who cross its path: leaving them paralytic and on the verge of death.

 (Sister Pictures for ITV)
(Sister Pictures for ITV)

With this set up, audiences would be forgiven for anticipated a slick, quality Red Riding Hood-style thrill ride. Alas, what awaits is a sadly interminable slog, an oddly paced and tonally confused mess.

Beyond the activities in the woods, there are workers’ protests, suspected murders, a possible suicide case and mistaken identities. A convict is released early from prison to the community’s horror, there are charismatic cult leaders and a boy who steals his mum’s money.

It should all make for a gripping mix. But it does not as it tries to do too many things at once. Is Passenger meant to be horror, crime thriller, or kitchen-sink satire? Who knows. The dialogue is clunky, the result unconvincing.

 (Sister Pictures for ITV)
(Sister Pictures for ITV)

The satire feels shoehorned in, as are the nods to topical subjects with the vague comments about complacency in the police force, which are not tackled in enough depth, which is the same as how it deals withthe post-industrial malaise in the North.

When the actors take a break from the melodrama that suffocates the script, they can at times be brilliant: perhaps none more so than Mosaku, who shines as Riya, delivering some of the show’s better lines ("He's hung like a Japanese war donkey," she boasts of her new man).

It can take time for screenwriters to have faith in their characters, but it's clear Mosaku carries this show. More of her, please: and less of, well, pretty much everything else.

Passenger is streaming now on ITV and ITVX