The best domestic violence against women drama I have ever seen was Lucy Gannon’s Trip Trap in 1996. It starred Kevin Whately, normally considered the sweet and goofy Lewis but brilliantly against the guy as an abusive husband. , and Stella Gonet as his literally and metaphorically broken wife. By “best”, of course, I mean the most heartbreaking, the most relentlessly precise and granular in the detail of the brutality that such a relationship entails, the most effective in evoking the extent of fear that pervades the world of. the victim. A quarter of a century later, it’s still a must-have touchstone as I prepare for another fictional foray into this particular horror.
And the forays are numerous. Fewer than those focused on the murder of a woman, but domestic (or intimate partner) violence (or domestic violence, or battered women – the terms change but they are still needed) remains fertile ground for it. investigation. Or operation, depending on the quality and intelligence of the product.
Angela Black, ITV’s new six-part drama about the Blighted Truth that lurks beneath the idyllic surface of a marriage, falls somewhere in between the two extremes. The story of Angela (Joanne Froggatt) suffering in silence at the hands of her husband Olivier (Michiel Huisman) is compassionate, not voyeuristic (the violence takes place almost entirely offscreen, a bloody tooth on the hallway floor tells us everything which we need to know) nor for cheap thrill-seeking at its expense or, indeed, at the expense of real-life survivors and victims.
It benefits from a formidable performance by Froggatt, which delivers to us a woman completely exhausted but leaping with nerves, hypervigilant but weighed down by the burden of the misery and the dread she carries. She adds a much needed emotional weight, especially once the thriller element is introduced, and a nuance to an everyday script (“I can be better. I want to be better … We have so much for which to do.” it’s worth the fight ”) which slips into downright unconvincing when it comes to most of Olivier’s lines. For some reason, a surprisingly high proportion of them end up with questions of etiquette (“Beautiful things can be flawed, right?”) And make it sound deeply unnatural. Elsewhere, friends and neighbors ask the usual questions about her bruised face and give her the traditional confused look when she explains. Her son opened a door for her, she said, apparently oblivious to the fact that a variation of the “I walked into a door” excuse is unlikely to allay anyone’s concerns.
Everything is a bit more on the nose than it could ideally be. Olivier’s control problems are first signaled by his rubbing against the ring left by a glass placed without a coaster by a guest during a dinner party. Angela volunteers at a dog shelter, caring for unfortunate caged creatures. One is a muzzled man, her supervisor tells her not to trust, but she unmuzzles him anyway and he bites her. After a second failed escape attempt, when her child fears having nightmares, she assures him: “You are going to wake up and it will all be over.” And I’ll always be right down the hall.
The thriller element includes the revelation by decidedly shady private investigator, Ed Harrison (Samuel Adewunmi), of even more shocking truths about her husband. Olivier hired him to dig up Angela so that when he files for divorce, as he secretly plans, he will obtain full custody of their children. But Harrison realized his client was an abuser and chose to warn Angela instead. A piece later – Angela frantically searching for Olivier’s phone in the living room before he returns from pouring wine in their lavishly appointed kitchen – her good faith is proven. This makes him all the more unsettling when he returns to tell Angela that things have escalated and that Olivier is now planning a much worse fate for her.
More than ever at this point, it is Froggatt’s performance that prevents the story from drifting into absurdity or becoming an enterprise of trivialization and exploitation. This, I guess, is pretty good. I hope it will be so for the rest of the race. Five Hours of Tightrope Walking is big business and while the drive to succeed is no doubt there, we’ve already seen some promising beginnings turn into simple revenge thrillers or standard ITV drama pits. Crossed fingers.