Viewpoint review – Noel Clarke excels in Rear Window-inspired thriller

This slick ITV drama eschews the usual narrative cliches to deliver a rich and compelling mystery with a surveillance edge

There were two oddly refreshing things about ITV’s new drama series Viewpoint, which is stripped across this week (three if you count it being set and shot in Manchester, rather than London – or Belfast pretending to be London). The first is that the lone woman walking beside the canal in the opening shot is a) doing so in daylight and b) destined to survive the journey. You don’t realise how much you relish the sight of non-dead women by canals in TV drama until you see one. It feels ludicrously charming.

The second is that time moves in linear fashion. There are no flashbacks. The lone woman – single parent (effectively) Zoe, played by Alexandra Roach picks up her daughter from primary school, covertly fascinated by much yummier mummy Kate (Catherine Tyldesley) as she does so. Both mothers engage in happy chat with devoted teacher Gemma (Amy Wren), and only the viewer sees Gemma return to a possessive, borderline-coercive boyfriend, Greg (Fehinti Balogun), who begins to get worked up when she mentions that she refused another offer to go out for a drink with the school’s headteacher. Then up flashes the caption “36 hours later”. Gemma has disappeared – from the flat while he was out for a run, claims Greg – and a police investigation is afoot. Modern dramas like to put these things the other way round, usually as an artificial aid to suspense. Viewpoint has more confidence in itself, and rightly so. What unfolds is an intense, stylish, emotionally intelligent and psychologically plausible thriller that controls itself beautifully while still delivering the goods.

The USP of the narrative is that it focuses on a surveillance unit given a 48-hour authority to keep watch on the prime suspect, Greg, rather than yer usual CID. It is led by Detective Martin Young (recent Bafta winner Noel Clarke), who sets up his hide in Zoe’s flat, which has a perfect view of Greg’s flat and Kate’s rather more expansive abode next door. It is on Kate’s place that Zoe has been previously and privately focused.

The surveillance team twist is a clever move by the writer, Ed Whitmore. It gives us the inescapable Rear Window intimacy and auspicious grounds for creeping paranoia, and it also does away at a stroke with the danger of the drama being damned, as so many are, by the sense of information being arbitrarily withheld. Martin is dependent on his viewfinder and the behaviour of those who chance to cross its path – and so are we.

Soon we have an embittered older woman – the local hate figure, according to Zoe, because her ill-kept house and the boat outside threatens property prices – tearing down the “missing”posters Kate has put up as part of the publicity campaign she has organised for Gemma. There is a young, attractive woman who visits Greg; he pulls the curtains shut after her arrival. There are reports of a prowler, a man gazing up at the building that houses Gemma and Kate, and who hands a friend of the latter’s husband a brown envelope. Car registration plates are run – the man is a former detective inspector subject to two restraining orders, who only narrowly avoided prison for stalking someone. His name is redacted on the database.

The police investigation is upgraded to a potential murder inquiry when Gemma’s bloodstained shoe is found in the local park. It then becomes clear that Martin is pursued by his own demons arising from a catastrophic incident during his own CID career. Later episodes add the question of how much you can ever trust yourself and what you see after an error of judgment big enough to alter for ever the lives of those around you. Similarly, Zoe’s penchant for voyeurism and innate hunger for excitement that lies buried, but not extinguished, beneath the responsibilities of motherhood, is gradually disinterred. It enmeshes her further in the investigation, making it ever more impossible for Martin to preserve the detachment from work and life that made him take his new job in the first place.

It’s human nature that is under scrutiny in Viewpoint, as much as plot machination and “who done what ’n’ why”, and of course it’s all the richer for it. A great cast (including Phil Davis as Martin’s boss, who will presumably have more to do as the five episodes unfold) is anchored by the perfectly deployed Clarke, in whom stillness and watchfulness are as compelling as anything larger that other actors do.

Contributor

Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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