Intruder review – Sally Lindsay stars in thriller that quickly turns high farce

A panicked call to the emergency services kicks off this four-part drama, but it’s hard to know if we’re meant to laugh or cry

Do you remember that Demi Moore film Striptease? It was 300 years ago, in 1996, so you may not. It was intended as a gritty look at one woman’s fight to survive desertion by her husband and raise her child alone by any means necessary and finding empowerment through one of the few avenues The Patriarchy lets women earn an independent living – stripping. Test audiences laughed at so many scenes it was quickly recut and issued as a comedy.

I thought of Striptease often as Intruder, Channel 5’s new four-part drama, unfolded – stripped (I promise no pun was intended) across the week. The initial setup was suspenseful enough: a woman’s hysterical call to the emergency services and a tumbling, semi-coherent account of an intruder, a stabbing, her husband, someone dead, a plea for an ambulance, playing over scenes of a dark, threatening garden whose thick foliage could hide a million horrors. And then we flashed back to the beginning of the evening and the programme proper began and felt … very different.

It was partly the opening dinner party scene, in which we were introduced to a collection of people implausibly yet unimaginatively awful. It was hard to know if we were meant to laugh or hate them so hard on sight that we would start hoping that it was the setting for a mass poisoning and the hysterical woman had simply miscounted her corpses. Alas, neither seemed to be the case. They moved from arguing about Brexit and racists over wine to negotiating marital tensions between hot couple hosts Sam (Tom Meeten) and Becca (Elaine Cassidy) over coke.

Meanwhile, a pair of teenagers in hoodies waited for them to go to bed and stop being annoying so they could break in and steal stuff. Eventually the hosts’ single, blond, female, alcoholic friend with a penchant for married men (you’ll never guess … oh, you have? Even before Sam starts receiving messages from an anonymous number and looking like he wants to throw himself out the nearest window? Well, good for you!) breaks up the party by passing out and having to be poured into the spare room for the night. The rest of the awful guests depart, Becca goes to bed and Sam stays up to do some work, and so he can hear the boys when they break in and get the plot going.

Which is: Sam stabs one of them in the back as he is fleeing. Becca and Angela see the aftermath. Angela regurgitates for us all the relevant law – “you’re only allowed to use force if you’re in danger or think you’re in danger” – because this is what you would undoubtedly remember after once doing law “for six months”. Naturally, their next move is to stage a more … self-defence-y scene and then call the police, claiming Rebecca did it as the boy was attacking her husband for arguing about Brexit over the dinner table. No, only the first bit.

They don’t know about the second boy, who got clean away with Sam’s laptop, unseen by anyone except a homeless man on the beach. This, if you’re lying about a murder, is a bad thing.

I think, so far, it’s meant to be high drama. There is no humour in the script or anyone’s faces. But somehow constant comic undertones persist, as inescapable as they are intangible. The restaging scene is about three degrees off farce. Sam’s reaction to his predicaments, whether of the murder-y or marital type, are more John Cleese in Clockwork than either Flawed Hero or Man You Might Meet in Real Life. Then they throw in Sally Lindsay as the family liaison officer Karen Bailey. Lindsay is a fine actor, but she is best known for comedy dramas because that is what is in her bones. She looks permanently ready to have a laugh, to find the light in the darkness. But here she is cast as a kind of earnest earth mother-cum-Sherlock Holmes figure and the disconnect throws things yet further out of kilter.

In other news, there is a local drugs ring run by Farmer Fitzgerald, whose shenanigans Rebecca and Angela are investigating for the local gazette, called the Gazette. This will tie into the main plot in the second episode. I looked ahead in an attempt to get more bearings, but it largely made things worse. I have to go and lie down.


Contributor

Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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