There’s no combination more enticing than the pairing of Reece Shearsmith and Sheridan Smith. ITV’s The Widower has been widely publicised by the channel (it’s even got its own printed elevator), and it’s definitely one to watch out for but while this is so, it’s horrifying. Based on the true story of murderer Malcolm Webster (knowing he lives out there makes my stomach churn), The Widower chronicles the story of a man driven by debt to kill his wife, making it look like an accident and using the insurance money to pulling himself out of arrears.
Shearsmith’s performance is superlative and spookily convincing. He manages to make Webster a seemingly ordinary freshly married man, a bit controlling and odd around the edges but not dangerous. But slowly we see his dark streak, his manipulative and downright evil side. As his bills come back to get him, he gets more and more warped, drugging his beautiful, affable young wife’s (played by Sheridan Smith, divine as ever) tea until he eventually makes the decision to kill her. That’s not a spoiler; the rest of the series is constructed around this initial sickening deed. Webster even finds another wife (Kate Fleetwood) and it seems history might start to repeat itself.
It’s harrowing stuff and a lot of this opener rests firmly on Shearsmith’s shoulders and for the most part he carries the first episode by himself. Smith is on excellent form too but she’s not really given much to do. Paul Whittington directs with flair, ranging his shots; trying to make us feel as distant from Webster as possible before then cutting to a shot in close proximity to the murderer.
Having recently co-written (with Steve Coogan) Oscar-nominated drama Philomena, it appears Jeff Pope is onto a winning streak. His script is taut, naturalistic and exactly what you would expect from Pope. Eerie moments are dragged out and I certainly got uncomfortable, especially since I watched The Widower alone.
The Widower is horrific, truly horrific and its disturbing viewing. Shearsmith is no stranger to dark TV, his recent anthology series Inside No 9 just drew to a close and it was a delightful blend of humour and the macabre, but here he plays a truly malevolent character and it’s hard to stomach the fact Webster is still out there albeit in custody.
I’d have to recommend The Widower, it’s masterfully done but it’s creepy. Seriously creepy. Still, with a sledgehammer performance from Shearsmith, support from Smith and a script from Pope, it’s one to look out for this Monday.
The Widower starts Monday at 9.00pm on ITV.
Contributed by Patrick Sproull