Contributed by Robin Jarossi
It may sound like the title of a jolly new sitcom, but as anyone who’s read Dorothy Koomson’s bestselling psychological thriller will know, The Ice Cream Girls is made of darker stuff.
The exploitation of vulnerable teenage girls and murder are the ingredients here, along with betrayal and injustice. But despite such powerful themes, the resulting drama is pretty decent, rather than must-see engrossing TV.
ITV’s three-parter has a good cast, led by Lorraine Burroughs and Jodhi May, and is the kind of small-scale production that UK television feels comfortable with. Where American channels such as AMC and HBO think big and brilliant, delivering dramas like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, ITV and the Beeb scale their ambitions down to tidy, risk-averse book spin-offs such as this.
Friday night seemed an odd choice to launch and run such a thriller, though, normally being the preserve of soaps, entertainment and chat shows – most recently Piers Morgan. Presumably with soccer and other strong crime dramas dominating the other weekdays – including Broadchurch and Scott & Bailey – it was the only place ITV could shoehorn it in. All of which is hardly ideal scheduling and makes you wonder how much faith ITV has in the show.
Anyway, the opener set the ball rolling pretty well, with Serena Gorringe (Burroughs) forced to return to the seaside town of her schoolgirl days to help her sister cope with their ailing mother. From the off, she is clearly unsettled by going back there, now with her husband and daughter in tow.
Her unease is based on a guilty secret that she’s never revealed to her husband. In 1995, she and another local girl, Poppy Carlisle (May), were the focus of a trial over the murder of a teacher with whom Serena had a schoolgirl affair. But where Serena walked free and could get on with her life, Poppy went to jail for 17 years.
Jodhi May is the highlight of the series, looking dowdy and embittered as the lost woman with a prison pallor. Her story is juicier than Lorraine Burroughs’s, as Poppy returns home to an antagonistic stepfather and bleak future – and May really convinces in the role.
Martin Compston is creepy as the teacher and victim, appearing in flashbacks to almost reluctantly enter a relationship with the young Serena, but then revealing his exploitative side as a serial seducer and bully.
The tension tightened in the first episode very effectively as Poppy started to close in on Serena, visiting her doctor husband at his surgery, planting seeds that she knew would have him reveal to his wife that Poppy was out and nearby. With the two women not due to meet until the final episode, and some dark secrets about the murder still to come, this should keep us nicely intrigued – assuming we’re not out enjoying ourselves on Friday night.