It may be a side effect of Lockdown 3.0, but I’ve struggled to lose myself in the normal dark and bleak drama that I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve seen folks on my Twitter timeline raving about the brilliance of The Serpent, but I struggled to get through the first one with its twisty timelines and dark subject matter. I’ve seen more people enjoying ITV’s The Pembrokshire Murders but again I just found it a standard albeit a well-made piece of crime drama.
I went into ITV’s Finding Alice (starting Sunday) unsure what to expect. All of ITV’s drama lineup this Winter and Spring is a crime drama. The second series of The Bay starts on Wednesday, the utterly bonkers third series of Marcella the week after and the highly anticipated fourth series of Unforgotten is still to come. From the trailers, Finding Alice seemed to offer something different.
Finding Alice is different. It remembers something that so many dramas these days forget, it’s OK to be funny. The script from The Durrells writer Simon Nye and Durrels director Roger Goldby is full of warmth and humour from the very start. In an age where dramas are dark and brooding, this series remembers the importance of humanity in its characters and that it’s OK to be funny.
It’s the story of Alice (Keeley Hawes) who moves into a new ‘smart house’. The house is the brainchild of her husband Harry (Jason Merrils) who, in the opening moments proudly takes his wife and daughter Charlotte (Isabella Pappas) on a tour of their new home, stopping every so often to tell the curtains to open or the lights to come on. Cleverly, the house itself feels a prominent character here. Whilst, impressive, the place has an ominous feel about it.
It’s not a spoiler to say Harry doesn’t survive the first night in his creation. His distraught wife discovers him at the bottom of the stairs. Perhaps to be expected given the way the staircase floats, a deliberate design choice means there was no bannister or handrail for him to grab on his way down. Yes there’s a central mystery here, did Harry really fall or was his death the result of something more sinister?
Alice and Charlotte find themselves grieving and alone in a house they don’t understand. Harry’s dreamhouse might be smart but he failed to mention where he’d hidden the fridge. Keeley Hawes does a masterful job with Alice. It’s a complex performance, at times she’s lost in her grief, other times she’s screaming with frustration because getting the curtains open isn’t quite as straightforward as Harry’s demonstration had led her to believe. Newcomer Isabella Pappas is wonderful as daughter Charlotte who is trying to care for her mum and grieving quietly. Nye and Goldby’s script assures viewers are immediately on the side of the mother and daughter. When the police arrive to investigate the fall Alice changes. She’s cold, irritated at having to answer questions and tells them the CCTV isn’t working. You can read this as a woman who is so deep in grief or maybe as someone who knows more than she’s letting on.
Their lives are further complicated with the arrival of both sets of parents. Alice’s parents Sarah (Joanna Lumley) and Roger (Nigel Havers) aren’t overcome with emotion when they visit. In a later scene when Alice asks them for a loan her mother quickly dismisses her request. Harry’s parents, on the other hand, are omnipresent. Desperate to help Alice and Charlotte as much as they are allowed. Gerry (Kenneth Cranham) and Minnie (Gemma Jones) let themselves into the house without asking.
It’s a drama with a lot of moving parts and truly intriguing mystery. I was struck by its warmth and heart. It doesn’t wallow in the family’s grief. The script skillfully balances sadness and humour and is all the better for it. Keeley Hawes is immediately believable as Alice and on the few occasions where you see a different side to her, it only adds to your interest in her. The first episode is full of turns, properly funny moments and I have no idea where the story will go next. In an age where drama can be intense, brooding and in your face, Finding Alice feels like a breath of fresh air.
Finding Alice starts Sunday at 9.00pm on ITV.