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TV review: Hollington Drive, Back To Life, and The Blob: A genius without a brain

08 October 2021

ITV

Fraser (Rhashan Stone) and Theresa (Anna Maxwell Martin) in Hollington Drive (ITV, Wednesday of last week)

Fraser (Rhashan Stone) and Theresa (Anna Maxwell Martin) in Hollington Drive (ITV, Wednesday of last week)

BEFORE urban megachurches became all the rage, the Church of England’s success story lay in her suburban captivity: that in-between (and therefore ideal Anglican) place where the comfortably off middle class live serious lives of aspiration tempered by concern.

Hollington Drive (ITV, Wednesday of last week), a four-parter, is the latest drama to reveal the diabolical substratum merely biding its time to break through the cracks in this idyll. The sisters Theresa — haunted by enigmatic flashbacks — and Helen, a head teacher, live in a cul-de-sac (the moral symbolism is laid on pretty heavily) of executive houses; their summer barbecue is marred by their children’s late return, out playing not as promised in the park, but, more sinisterly, the wood.

A child from the school — from a significantly less salubrious neighbourhood — goes missing. The fear and anxiety that clutch quite rightly at the heart of every parent as the days lengthen without news is complicated by the revelation to us privileged viewers that Helen is having an affair with the missing boy’s father; and Theresa is troubled by what exactly their children were up to in that wood.

The tragedy forces her to confess, finally, the haunting secret to her husband: her son is the fruit of a violent drugged rape, and she never knew the father’s identity. As the boy grows up, is he taking after not her, but his father? Is she harbouring a monster? Aspects of plot and dialogue fail to convince, but the acting is superb, and the heavy sense of dread, the delineation of unbridgeable distance between apparently close partners, disturbingly true.

An unspeakable crime played for comedy — sort of — animates Back To Life (BBC1, Tuesdays). I missed the first series, and, for once, will watch all previous episodes to savour every detail. Having served her prison sentence for murdering her best friend, Miri is back home with her parents in comfortable middle-class Hythe. At every turn, her past undermines her determination to start again; she is hated, cannot find work, and encounters spite and rejection. Her parents are bonkers; home unbearably weird.

This should be a tragedy, yet the star and writer Daisy Haggard is so effervescent and indomitable, the starry cast so wholehearted in their embrace of this unique genre, that humour overcomes despair.

Serious documentaries frequently allude to horror movies: The Blob: A genius without a brain (BBC4, Wednesday of last week) goes one better as the leading scientists investigating Physarum polycephalum throughout the world all refer to the object of their study as “the blob”. This creature challenges everything that we think we understand of intelligence and agency. Unchanged for one billion years, single-celled, without brain or stomach, it displays astonishing abilities: negotiates mazes, learns new forms of behaviour, and “communicates” with its kind. It undermines our assumptions in so many fields that this fascinating programme should have included, as so often, a theologian.

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