Vicky McClure has become the go-to star for taut, gripping British thrillers and her latest project, Without Sin, is no different.
The ITVX show explores the relationship that develops between a grieving mother and the man convicted of murdering her daughter. McClure is perpetually puffer-jacketed Stella, whose 14-year-old daughter Maisy is found dead at their family home with the bloodied, hooded figure of Charles Stone (Johnny Harris) standing over her.
The series picks up Stella’s life three years on from her daughter’s death – she is still hostage to her grief, working as a taxi driver at night and very much a passenger in her own life. She is, as her mother Jessie (Dorothy Atkinson) describes, “treading water”, but is almost pulled under when she discovers her ex-husband Paul (Perry Fitzpatrick, a fellow Line of Duty alumnus) is expecting a child with his new girlfriend.
Close to rock bottom, she decides to take up the offer of a restorative justice scheme to meet with Charles in an attempt to find closure. Instead, he re-opens her barely-healed wounds by claiming to have been framed in an elaborate and shadowy set-up.
What follows is a moody and meticulously crafted whodunnit, with riveting twists and turns, excruciating tension and maddening ambiguity surrounding Charles’s culpability. Is he a violent murderer who has spent the last three years concocting an intricate plot from behind bars to manipulate Stella and walk free? Or is this a troubled man who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, longing to make amends for his past and clear his name?
Writer Frances Poletti in her debut series pulls off the extraordinary feat of coming up with, and landing, a labyrinthine plot while maintaining tension throughout. She toys with her audience, dangling the answers just out of reach, right up until the last moments of the genuinely unexpected reveal.
The show is co-produced by McClure’s new production company BYO, established with her partner Johnny Owen, and has her gritty stamp all over it. Set in Nottingham, a strong sense of place grounds the authenticity of the show.
It is a rare day that McClure disappoints, but here she really excels with a captivating and subtle performance.
While it often feels like the McClure show, that’s not to discredit the rest of the cast. Harris is superb in portraying a character for whome violence and empathy often sit unsettlingly close to one another.
Atkinson also delivers a heart-warming performance as Jessie. It would have been easy for the role to fall into a caricature, but instead we meet an older single woman unashamed to embrace the duality of parenthood and her own personal life.
Paced to perfection, Without Sin shows McClure at her very best. With complex characters, intense drama and a tantalising mystery, it is worth adding to your ‘to watch’ list this Christmas.
Without Sin is out on ITVX, and episode one will air on ITV at 9pm on May 14