Without Sin, review: Vicky McClure leaves Line of Duty behind with powerful study of grief

Dorothy Atkinson and Vicky McClure in Without Sin - ITVX
Dorothy Atkinson and Vicky McClure in Without Sin - ITVX

Does every television drama have to star Keeley Hawes, Suranne Jones or Vicky McClure? They’re on screen so much, I worry that they never have time to do anything else, like take a holiday or put a wash on. All three of them are on our TVs this Christmas: Hawes in Stonehouse, Jones in Christmas Carole, and McClure in Without Sin (ITVX). The latter follows the Christmas TV tradition of serving up murder and misery.

It’s good, though. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that there’s a twist in the final episode (of four) which makes the whole thing worthwhile. Things begin slowly, with McClure as Stella, a woman still struggling to process the death of her 14-year-old daughter, Maisy, several years earlier. Charles Stone (Johnny Harris), the man convicted of Maisy’s murder, has expressed a desire to meet Stella as part of the restorative justice scheme.

What at first plays out as a character study of grief and guilt enters thriller territory when Charles uses the meeting to tell Stella that he didn’t do it, despite Stella coming home that night to find Charles crouching over the body with blood on his hands. He says that another teenage girl is in mortal danger, and pleads with Stella for help.

Of course, the plot becomes a touch unrealistic from here, as Stella sets off on her own investigation without contacting the police (save for her ex, who happens to be a police officer but isn’t a great deal of use). Stella gave up her office job after Maisy’s death and now works as a taxi driver, which can only have been thrown in as a device because driving comes in handy at certain points in the drama. But the central mysteries of what happened to Maisy, and the whereabouts of the other missing girl, keep things going.

Screenwriter Frances Poletti, making her series debut here, is a Nottingham native and the sense of place is strong. So is the world she creates, in which parents are oblivious to what their teenagers get up to, and even nice kids from middle-class homes get mixed up with drugs gangs.

Mostly, though, it’s the performances that raise Without Sin above standard ITV thriller territory. McClure, Harris and Perry Fitzpatrick (who plays Maisy’s father) worked together on Shane Meadows’s This Is England, and it shows. There is a naturalism to their acting – they speak and behave like real people. Harris is particularly good as the convict wrestling with his conscience.

All episodes of Without Sin are on ITVX now