Engrossing drama about a wife whose undercover cop husband is murdered, with a knockout performance from Sheridan Smith
★★★★½ ITV, day, date, time
THE TROUBLE with police procedurals is all the procedure.
Too many questions, too much note-taking, too much ‘Where were you on the night of the 14th?’
Black Work doesn’t bore us with all that. When our heroine, Jo, thinks some rowers might have seen the murderers of her undercover cop husband, the next scene cuts to her handing over a video to the police that she’s obtained from the rowers and viewed herself. We’re not put through the tedium of watching her go to the rowing club, asking questions, watching it, putting two and two together etc etc.
All of which allows writer/creator Matt Charman the time to concentrate on the human drama, in the process conjuring a riveting and emotional story.
Sheridan Smith as Jo Gillespie
Sheridan Smith gives another compelling performance as Jo Gillespie following her other recent star turns for ITV as Cilla and Mrs Biggs. Jo, also a police officer, feels cut off from her distant husband, Ryan. When Ryan is murdered in a derelict warehouse on what is supposed to be his day off, Jo is besieged by questions.
She is told Ryan was working undercover, which is news to Jo. She is told she shouldn’t mention his death to their daughter and Ryan’s son by a previous partner, because secrecy is paramount as a series of arrests are about to be made.
Jo is pulled is all directions. She’s distraught about Ryan’s killing, but angry, too – ‘He lied to me for two years. I didn’t know who he was.’ She is guilty over her closeness to one of his colleagues, Jack (Jamaica Inn‘s Matthew McNulty). She has to comfort her children and deal with Ryan’s ex-wife, as well as handle her interfering mother-in-law.
And what makes her particularly interesting is that she is no wallflower. She is a police officer as well, an insider, and she knows when Douglas Henshall’s DS Hepburn is soft-soaping her about the investigation.
Black Work is full of twists
There’s a fine scene where she confronts the investigating team in the pub. ‘We’re pursuing some interesting leads,’ DS Hepburn tells her.
‘What, after you’ve finished your pint?’ she shouts back.
It’s an emotional, strong role that requires Sheridan Smith to play a blinder, and she really rises to it. She is an extraordinary actress, whether it’s comedy (hilarious in Gavin & Stacey), on stage (superb in Legally Blonde, an award-winner in Flare Path) or on the box (recently brilliant in The C-Word). Surely, Hollywood will be a pushover.
Black Work is a gripper, full of intrigue and strong story-telling. The only shame is that, like BBC2’s Stonemouth, three-part Black Work is not longer. ITV should take a look at Swedish thriller Jordskott, starting this week on ITV Encore. That – a 10-parter – is more like it.