There are some mild spoilers below. Beware.
From the trailers BBC One’s new 9pm drama Doctor Foster resembled a weekday afternoon soap, what a surprise then that the first episode turned out to be as gripping and brilliant as it did.
With Suranne Jones and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’s Bertie Carvel playing husband and wife this opening hour was essentially two things: a study of marriage; and a study of what happens when suspicion is allowed to grow. It all starts off so well with happy marital nooky, a polite teenage son, great jobs (she’s a GP and head of practice, he’s a property developer), and generally a happy way of life. Then Gemma (played by Jones) notices a blonde hair on hubby’s scarf – she’s dark haired. From there is all gets worse.
What follows is an exceedingly well written and perfectly acted portrayal of suspicion gone massive. Potential adulteresses are introduced, his secretary, her friend, a patient at the surgery, all blonde, all lovely. And from that one blonde hair (and a slightly girly pink lip balm) Gemma accuses a friend of having an affair, follows Simon (Carvel) from his work – turns out his visiting his ill mother in a hospice, or is he? – employs a patient to follow him in exchange for the sleeping pills she’s desperate for.
And as viewers we’re left, as Gemma is, trying to join the dots, is Simon really having an affair or are these “signs” just nothing. There’s a twist at the end of the episode that reveals the truth, but even then we’re left wondering how real that truth is. A large part of the skill is in the script but it’s also in the acting, Jones is excellent as the wife under pressure, confused one minute, acting with seeming clarity the next, whilst Carvel follows up his career defining turn in Jonathan Strange… with the most subtley nuanced of turns, using his natural “who me?” demeanour to great effect.
Where viewer and characters go next who knows, but if the opening hour is anything to go by it’s going to be a must watch.
Doctor Foster is on BBC1 at 9pm on Wednesdays.