REVIEW: ITV’s ‘Cleaning Up’ offers something different.

by | Jan 9, 2019 | All, Reviews

It’s been quite some time since Sheridan Smith has led a TV drama series. Back in 2011, 2012 and 2013, it seemed she was everywhere, not that is a bad thing.  If you’ve watched any of ITV over the last few weeks you’ll no doubt have seen the ad that puts Smith front and centre of new six-parter Cleaning Up.

The series follows working-class mum Sam (Sheridan Smith) who works as a cleaner in a stockbroker’s office. Having recently separated from her husband Dave (Matthew McNulty), Sam is doing all she can to make ends meet and support her daughters Alice (Kristy Philipps) and Lily (Anya McKenna-Bruce), which proves difficult since she is struggling with a gambling addiction and has little money to her name. 

However, she soon learns of secret stock information that, should she act on it, could be the answer to all of her problems. But will she risk prison by investing in these stocks? That is the question — and the central conflict for Sam during this first episode.

As a character, Sam is an incredibly believable protagonist and is about as real as you or me. Writer and creator Mark Marlow establishes her dilemma really early on, allowing us to empathise with the character from the off. It’s not just the script that makes Sam so real, however, but also Smith’s performance — and her excellent characterisation.

Sam’s problems stem from her incessant gambling, which Marlow dramatises through the character’s constant use of gambling apps, as well as the subtext in her dialogue when she speaks of her money issues.  The conflict between Sam and husband Dave —who no longer lives with his family — creates further problems for daughters Alice and Lily, who more often than not side with their dad. In spite of this, it’s Sam’s commitment to her children that’s the driving force behind her unruly-but-totally-understandable actions throughout this opening instalment.

History has shown us that the best drama series tend to centre around an ordinary character who find themselves in an extraordinary situation, before being pushed to make a huge — possibly life-changing —decision. It’s safe to say that Cleaning Up’s Sam fits this bill. Between her continuous gambling, her inability to pay back the loan sharks and the fact that she’s unable to rely on her zero hours cleaning contract — not to mention keeping her house and supporting her children — Sam sure has a lot to deal with. However, while this could’ve easily been more than enough to drive the character to take part in illegal activities, Marlow pushes Sam closer to the edge when Dave threatens to take Alice and Lily away from her. With a threat such as this one hanging over her, Sam knows she has no other choice but to act on the stock information she’s inadvertently learned from stockbroker Blake (Ben Bailey Smith).

I found script exceptional throughout maintaining a good pace.  Much of the episode centres around Sam’s internal conflict, but after deciding she cannot miss out on this lucrative opportunity, she enlists the help of her best friend and fellow cleaner Jess (Jade Anouka), who is also in need of money. 

 After the initial decision-making is out of the way for Sam, Cleaning Up only becomes more enticing as she conspires with Jess, coming up with a plan to bug Blake’s office to secure even more scared stock information.

While she’s breaking the law with her actions, what’s nice about Cleaning Up is that it’s not particularly a crime series, but more a drama about a broken family — and a mother’s commitment to do whatever it takes to support said family. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I love more than a gripping crime drama, but as there are currently so many of them, there’s also plenty of room for something different. Cleaning Up provides us with just that, and it has all the makings of a really compelling drama series.

Sam’s luck may have finally come in during the closing moments of the first episode, but there’s still so much that could go wrong for the troubled protagonist, and that’s likely what’ll happen in the remaining instalments. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Cleaning Up, because it’s worth your time, and has the potential to clean up itself at future award ceremonies — should that potential be realised, that is.

Contributed by Stephen Patterson

Cleaning Up continues Wednesdays at 9pm on ITV. 

Stephen Patterson

Stephen Patterson



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