This Flesh and Blood review contains spoilers.
Flesh and Blood Episode 1
Normans Bay, East Sussex. That’s the search term for your new Rightmove coastal daydream. (Half a mil, easy, and be aware that with the sea air, you’d be replacing your fascias and soffits twice as often as you would in town.)
It’s a glass balcony that needs replacing in Sarah Williams’ Flesh And Blood, a four-part mystery thriller airing between now and Thursday at 9pm on ITV. Somebody’s gone through it, leaving a gloopy bloodstain on the shingle below. Fallen, or pushed? That is the question.
There are other questions: who’s the victim? Who’s the culprit? What motivated the attack? And when will the escaped convict I helped on the Kent marshes as a child make me a gentleman so that I too can afford a four-bed with kitchen-diner and uninterrupted sea views?
The views are very good indeed. It’s all part of the draw for this genre – the Le Creuset crime mystery, peopled by models from luxury cruise brochures and vitamin supplement ads. Colourful. Aspirational. Lightweight. A leafy salad of a crime drama, concealing dark obsessions underneath the rocket and chunks of feta.
Our tour guide to the glass balcony family is Mary From Next Door (Imelda Staunton), whose informal police interview provides the framing narrative we flash-back from. She introduces us to glamorous widow Vivien (Francesca Annis), mother to Helen (Claudie Blakley), Jake (Russell Tovey) and Natalie (Lydia Leonard), any of who might be the body we see loaded into the back of an ambulance in the opening scene, or the one who put them there.
As is right and proper, Staunton’s part turns out to be juicier than mere storyteller. Over the course of the first episode, it transpires that Mary From Next Door is not quite the friendly take-your-bins-in sweetheart she makes out. The unreliability of her narrative is laid bare at the halfway point, when, despite explaining to David Bamber’s detective that she and Vivien didn’t live in each other’s pockets (“I kept myself to myself, always have done, just who I am”), we watch her steam open a parcel addressed to Vivien and eat her tea wearing the contents (conventionally, a dressing gown, though had it been a selection of charcuterie or a lampshade, there’s the sense that Mary may well have done the same).
Between that, her repeated insistence on her neighbour’s sexual attractiveness, and the binoculars she uses to spy on her, Mary From Next Door appears to be a few cheese straws short of a platter and certainly not quite as she makes out. Is this a Notes On A Scandal kind of deal, or could Mary be the woman with whom Vivien’s dead husband had a years-long affair? And will there turn out to be a reason that none of the siblings bear even a passing resemblance to each other?
Nobody in Flesh And Blood is quite as they make out. It’s one of those TV dramas where everybody’s got secrets and regularly alludes to it by sighing and saying things like ‘everybody’s got secrets’. Eldest daughter Helen is an alcoholic with an unhappy marriage. Middle son Jake has been kicked out by his wife and is up to his neck in gambling debt he’s paying off by selling sex to a personal training client. The youngest, Natalie, is sleeping with and now pregnant by, her married boss.
They’ve all got enemies too. Helen’s hated at work, Jake owes money and Nat’s boss’ wife is on to her. Not to mention each other. There’s no enmity like sibling enmity, and this lot are a grabby, squabbling pile of pups. When their mum introduces them to Blue Harbour dreamboat Mark (Stephen Rea), her new man rustled up from a dating website for the bereaved, the squabbling intensifies.
The secret of most interest – if indeed it exists – belongs to Mark, who claims to be a retired surgeon head over heels in love and with an entirely innocent reason to want to rush Vivien down the aisle. What is Mark’s deal? Is he smitten, or, as Jake suspects, is he in it for Vivien’s property, healthy savings balance and wodge of shares?
The case against Mark develops when previously fit jogger Vivien suffers a mysterious collapse, enabling Mark to move in and keep an eye. That’s when he spots Mary From Next Door doing exactly the same with her Nikon Compact bins. Who is the real threat? Is it cheese straw Mary or Mr ‘I want a quickie Gibraltar wedding’ dishy Irishman, if that even is his real name.
So, who fell through the glass balcony? Who pushed them? Who’s in hospital fighting for their life? And who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Formulate your theories quickly, please, because it’s back tomorrow night with episode two.
Flesh And Blood continues on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 9pm on ITV1.