In the fourth episode of the BBC’s brilliant thriller The Tourist, rookie cop Helen Chambers admits she tried to kill herself. It’s an admission that comes out easily. She admits that the death of her father when she was younger, felt like ‘the lights went out in her world’. It’s just one of the many moments that have made me fall more in love with the character and actor Danielle Macdonald.
When we first meet Helen she’s introducing herself to the show’s main character who has completely lost his memory after a car crash in the Australian wilderness. Nervous and uncomfortable, Helen is a friendly face to the man who has no idea who he is or where he is. She’s unsure of herself but instantly likeable and a breath of fresh air. In a lesser drama, Helen might come across as the ditzy and clueless cop, but the clever script from Harry and Jack Williams makes sure we know that Helen is capable of more than even she realises and we’re always on her side.
In a later scene in the opening episode, she pulls up at a drive-thru to order a burger. She initially turns down the offer of ‘cheese balls’ to accompany her order. She pauses and takes up the offer and eats her meal in her car before hiding the wrappers in her glovebox. She returns home to fiancee Ethan (Greg Larsen) who has been busy cooking a healthy meal for his wife to be. Greg Larsen brings a lot of humour to the character but it’s quickly apparent he’s not the warm character we first perceive him to be. He constantly puts Helen down. Knocking her aspirations in the police, her weight and her commitment to him. Helen knows she deserves better but never really gets too down. She’s a rare beast in drama really. In other ‘cop’ shows a home life like this would lead to the character being depressed and burying herself in her work. Another version of Helen might lash out at her colleagues but this Helen never does that. She’s determined but also happy-go-lucky and polite to everyone she meets.
When she talks about her suicide attempt she’s lying in bed in a hotel room. It’s a striking confession made even more poignant by the fact that she’s there because the man from the hospital, Elliot Stanley (Jamie Dornan) is holding her hostage. He takes her hostage after police learn of his identity. Even when held at gunpoint, Helen is never really scared. She relays the story of how her father’s death sent her into a dangerous downward spiral and how Ethan was there to help her out the other side. It’s the darkest the character ever gets (in the four episodes to air) but one that doesn’t feel like a slip into melodrama. Helen is always beautifully honest and open and that’s the brilliance in the character.
It’s not the first time I fell hard for Macdonald. She was brilliant in the Netflix limited series Unbelievable where she played Amber, a college student who reports being sexually assaulted by someone who enters her apartment late at night. In a show full of tender and heartbreaking performances Macdonald stood out. Even though her character had been through unspeakable horror, the performance is understated and downplayed in a way of conveying the humanity of the character at the heart of this terrible crime. in both Unbelievable and The Tourist Macdonald remembers there’s a human being at the centre of each story.
The performance from Danielle Macdonald is pitch-perfect. It’s a tender portrayal and it’s impossible not to fall under her spell. She’s a rare character in drama because she’s utterly uncomplicated. She’s an open book. She’s normal. Ordinarily, thrillers like this are full of characters shrouded in secrecy, and The Tourist features a fair few, but Helen is interesting because of her warmth and normalcy. Her lines are the funniest in what is already a refreshing series full of surprising humour. Macdonald brings a physicality to Helen. It can appear she’s never really sure where she’s supposed to be. Perhaps Ethan’s comments have affected her more than she realises. She’s the best female character since Shiv Roy in Succession but shares a lot more with Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley. Helen is brilliantly unpredictable and has an inner confidence that even she might not be aware of. The pairing of Elliot and Helen works well as they balance each other out. Elliot is the confused, off the wall and rattled hardman who is calmed and charmed by the steady and reliable Helen. Dornan and Macdonald have brilliant chemistry and I feel so comfortable in their company.
However crazy the series gets I’m willing to go with it because these characters, and Helen in particular anchor it. I made the decision not to binge the series (it’s been there on iPlayer since January 1st) because I’ve enjoyed having it to look forward to and because I know I’ll miss Helen when I reach the end. I’m not sure how it would work, but if Baptiste can a spin-off surely ‘Chambers’ can’t be too much to ask for?! Whatever happens, I’ll be looking forward to the next time Danielle Macdonald’s name pops up, she deserves big things.
The Tourist Continues on Sunday at 9.00pm and is available in full on the BBC iPlayer now!