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TV review: Strangers, ITV – double lives, defaced books and dreadful extras, but John Simm shines

PUBLISHED: 11:00 13 September 2018

John Simm as Jonah Mulray.  Photographer: Steve Wong.

John Simm as Jonah Mulray. Photographer: Steve Wong.

ITV

In scenes that some viewers found distressing, John Simms’ character, university lecturer Jonah Mulray wrote in a first edition copy of Jane Eyre. It wasn’t the only thing that jarred about ITV’s latest thriller Strangers. CONTAINS SPOILERS.

John Simm as Jonah Mulray, Anthony Wong as David Chen and Emila Fox as Sally Porter.


 Picture ITV plc.John Simm as Jonah Mulray, Anthony Wong as David Chen and Emila Fox as Sally Porter. Picture ITV plc.

In our front room, there was a sharp intake of breath as a terrible crime played out on the small screen: how COULD John Simm’s character deface a first edition copy of Jane Eyre?

The book in question had been a loving gift from university professor Jonah Mulray to his wife, a precious antique book which he then proceeded to vandalise.

As jaw-dropping moments go, it far eclipsed the two others in the same episode – in fact I’m still upset about it now. That book was worth £40,000. Was.

Strangers is ITV’s latest mega-bucks thriller which the broadcaster has been pushing hard for months, not only via small-screen trailers, but also big screen ones too at the cinema. It stars John Simm as Jonah and her from Ballykissangel, Dervla Kirwan as his wife Megan, who has been killed in a car crash abroad.

“How will I live without her?” mused Jonah, as he prepared to fly to Hong Kong, popping Valium in order to be able to board a flight (please tell me that episode eight won’t conclude with all of this being a, ahem, bad trip, when he wakes up after a particularly vivid dream on the aeroplane).

The answer to this would have been: “the same way you’ve lived without her most of the time” because as we were about to find out, Megan had a completely separate life in Hong Kong which saw her mostly living on the other side of the world.

Within minutes, Jonah’s life crumbles: it turns out that Megan was great at being a wife because she’d had 17 years of practice being married to someone else – she was living a double life and about to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary with first husband David Chen (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong).

David and Megan had a grown-up daughter, Lau Chen (Katie Leung) who has Got Mixed Up In Something Dodgy and is partial to spraying things with pink paint and offering a one-fingered salute to The Man.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Jonah has identified his wife of three years’ body, vomited in a sink (I was eating during this scene, a mistake), spotted another man looking at a photograph of Megan (her other husband), accosted him and discovered the terrible truth that he had a time-share spouse.

We saw plenty of flashbacks to happier times when Jonah didn’t know his wife was married to someone else and she wasn’t dead, the most poignant of which was when we realised the dedication he’d written in that Jane Eyre was REALLY long.

The rest of the episode involved lots of fast-moving footage of Hong Kong (which looks amazing) and lots of footage of John Simm being properly baffled in a place he finds properly baffling. I didn’t feel too sorry for him: who starts an ITV primetime drama by talking about the fact that the concept of nations is a consensual illusion?

Simm is, of course, a safe pair of hands as a lead and he was, as ever, great. The rest of the show? Not so much, although Dervla Kirwan was the most realistic corpse I’ve seen in a long day’s march: I’m not joking. She was great at playing dead.

There were niggling problems: for example, I think it’s the first time recently in a high-budget drama that I’ve noticed the extras: FOR THE WRONG REASONS.

First up was a protester spotted by Simm’s character as he drove from the airport to the British Embassy who was ‘attacking’ a Mercedes with as much vigour as I dust china, second was a woman being pushed out of the way at another protest who acted as if she’d just been pushed out of a rocket in deep space.

And then there were the mobile phone issues: not only were we are led to believe that Jonah, in his state of grief, forgot to check his phone was charged before setting out to the other side of the world, he also forgot to check his messages or bring a charger.

It’s a shame, really, that he hadn’t chosen his wife’s brand of mobile phone(s) because the two she had – one for each husband – were still fully charged days after her death. That’s impressive battery life: I almost paused the action and zoomed in to see the brand.

Either way, when Jonah discovered his wife may have been murdered (long story, but it appears she was shot after her car was hit and the bullet-wound in her chest wasn’t mentioned to Jonah at the morgue) he decided to stay and solve the crime, even though he’s a man who can’t even work a mobile phone.

Then again, the Hong Kong consulate did make him fly from Britain to identify his wife’s body even though there was someone far more experienced at being Megan’s husband on-site. It’s all very confusing. I might come back just to see how bad the extras are next week.

Strangers, ITV, Mondays, 9pm

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