|Lucy Griffiths as Ruth (pics ITV)|
Monday, 1 November, 9pm, ITV1
The mother-in-law, once the butt of many a cheesy comedy routine, is given a new and ominous twist by Francesca Annis in The Little House.
She certainly doesn’t look like a dragon, she is considerate and generous to her daughter-in-law, Ruth, offering to give her a country cottage in which to raise a family with husband Patrick.
What’s not to like? Well in this engrossing psychological thriller, based on Philippa Gregory‘s best-selling novel, appearances might be misleading.
Rising star Lucy Griffiths
What works brilliantly in this two-parter (scripted by Ed Whitmore, who wrote the recent Identity on ITV, and episodes of Silent Witness) is that it doesn’t hurry its secrets, and for a long time it’s hard to know if the mother-in-law is a conniving psycho or Ruth is unhinged.
Ruth is played by rising star Lucy Griffiths (U Be Dead, Robin Hood). We meet her as a young wife in love with her busy, successful husband (Rupert Evans). She a woman who becomes cut-off with her apparently caring in-laws and husband, but in a sinister turn of events she soon appears to be losing her mind.
Her wealthy in-laws, Elizabeth (Bafta-winner Annis) and Frederick (Tim Pigott-Smith) have invited the couple to move into a cottage they have bought just a walk from their own huge country house.
Suddenly, Ruth’s cosy life and aspirations as a teacher and for travel with her husband are derailed – ‘I’m not ready for the good life yet,’ she tells Patrick, dreading isolation in the country.
But Ruth becomes unexpectedly pregnant and the Little House becomes home. After a traumatic caesarian birth, she struggles to bond with her baby son. When she appears to have burned the infant with a cigarette, she is diagnosed with post-partum psychosis.
What works so well with the rich scenario created here is that it is hard to know whether Ruth, with her family history of depression, is really endangering the child. And Elizabeth is an ambiguous figure, with her own daughter having transplanted herself and her children to Canada and having nothing to do with her mother.
When Elizabeth says to Frederick, ‘Little Ruthie’s going to have our baby,’ we wonder about hidden agendas.
The Little House is a wonderful diversion from the usual crime-thriller fare, there being no detectives, serial killers, high-concepts or convoluted plots in sight. It’s a fascinating family mystery, acted with subtlety. And after all the polite, middle-class exchanges, it reaches a full-blooded climax.