Review: Black Work (S1 E1/3), Sunday 21st June, ITV


Black-Work-TV-showIt’s impossible to know how anyone would react if a partner died suddenly. The grief and shock must be crushing. You must hold onto those last few moments you spent with them, and replay the last words you spoke to them. Were they loving words? Was it an argument? Every last word is reviewed and replayed. What happens then, on top of the shock and horror, when you find out a secret about your partner that suddenly means they weren’t the person you thought they were. That was the initial premise of this very tight, very good new three-parter, starring Sheridan Smith.

We were introduced to Jo Gillespie (Smith), a WPC (or at least an ex WPC), whose marriage to fellow policeman Ryan is struggling. They’re obviously growing apart with Ryan spending more and more time away from home, Jo and their two kids. He goes out to watch the footie with his mates, and when it’s obvious he’s not coming home for the evening she leaves a voicemail on his phone telling him she loves him and they should make more time for each other. This new-found zest for the relationship came after she broke off her friendship (it wasn’t clear if they were lovers) with a male parent at her daughter’s swimming club. They would meet regularly in the car to talk about their unhappy marriages. She felt guilt, so did he. She ended it.

Ryan didn’t return home that night. A small team of officers greeted Jo after she got back from shopping to tell her that Ryan was dead. DCI Hepburn (Douglas Henshaw and his gorgeous Scottish brogue) informed Jo that Ryan had been, for the past few years, been working undercover and that the investigation into a gun-running gang he had been at the forefront of was in its final stages. She was asked not to tell her children (her daughter and stepson) and keep schtum.

Naturally, she failed to do this.

Suddenly her world was imploding and doubts and paranoia started to creep into her grieving mindset. The man she thought she knew had turned out to be someone else, living a secret identity elsewhere. She didn’t know who he was and she needed answers.

The man she had had intimate chats with, Jack, was also a police officer, now working on the team investigating Ryan’s murder. Things weren’t adding up – communication between Ryan and his handler had been sporadic in the weeks leading up to his death; the fact Ryan was where he was found didn’t make sense to the undercover team. What was he doing there? Had he gone rogue?

Bits of information got back to Jo and thanks to music and some really nice editing and camera angles, she was soon trusting no one, engulfed in a world of paranoia. Especially when she found out her car had been bugged and her intimate conversations had been recorded, and heard by Ryan. Her daughter found the discs in the airing cupboard and played them to the whole family on the stereo. Not ideal.

With all this swirling around her head, she had decided to conduct her own investigation. Soon she had found out Ryan’s undercover name, and where his bolthole was.

ITV is famed for these tasty little three-part treats, often high concept in their ambitions. Which is fine and fun for the audience (Prey, for instance, was one of my favourite, fun crime dramas of last year), but this three-parter immediately felt like it had more depth. It was unshowy, beautifully paced and didn’t jump straight into the noirish rogue investigation Jo was going to undertake too quickly. It took its time, focused on the family dynamic and examined the nature of losing a partner. And of course Sheridan Smith made things extremely watchable. She has such a natural feeling for character – any character – her first ever crime drama looks like it’s going to be a winner.

Of course there were some major implausibilities – would Jo even have been told about Ryan’s undercover work before the end of an investigation? And Jack feeding Jo information from the investigation? Probably wouldn’t happen.

Still, an unexpectedly solid start.

Paul Hirons

To read our Sheridan Smith interview, go here



3 thoughts on “Review: Black Work (S1 E1/3), Sunday 21st June, ITV

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