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There must be happy suburban families out there, but you won’t find them in Hollington Drive, and probably never on ITV at 9pm. The titular street is an architecturally moribund cul-de-sac. The location is so magnificently bland that it must have taken a lot of location scouting. Even in Barratt Homes Britain, streets this devoid of character are rare. The effect is deliberate: the drama exists almost out of time, heightened by the absence of contemporary reference points, even Covid. It’s a kind of anti-Ramsay Street, where bad neighbours become bad enemies.
Hollington Drive, a dark four-part thriller, is the latest script from the young writer Sophie Petzal, who started out on CBBC before breaking into adult drama with the award-winning Irish drama Blood. Although there are plenty of children in Hollington Drive, they are not really pre-watershed figures.
The first episode opens at a barbecue, where it’s evident that the series has a rolling start in the domestic-gloom stakes because everyone already hates each other. Headmistress Helen (Rachael Stirling) has a fractious, intense relationship with her younger sister Theresa (Anna Maxwell Martin), who lives nearby. Helen’s husband David (Peter McDonald) is apparently bored with everything and everyone, wandering about disengaged. Theresa and her partner Fraser (Rhashan Stone) are getting on each other’s nerves. Fraser’s brother Eddie (Ken Nwosu) doesn’t help. He’s a kind of amiable troll with a knack for saying the wrong thing, which cranks up everyone’s gears even more. Understandably tiring of the event, Theresa’s son Ben (Fraser Holmes) and niece Eva (Amelie Bea Smith), Helen’s daughter, ask if they can go and play in the park. Who can blame them? Yet when another child on the street, Alex (Hughie Hamer) goes missing later that day, Theresa starts to wonder whether Ben might know more than he is letting on. It’s a classic mother’s intuition to sense when your little darling might be an evil criminal.
Before you know it, we’re being served up the full English of middle-class parent terrors: vanishing children, marital ennui, class frictions, fears about technology. Martin, our preeminent comic Mother in Crisis from her work in Motherland, creates a more soulful and troubled version here. She is incapable of playing a scene without emotional intelligence, and brilliantly conveys a woman whose mind is racing to nightmarish conclusions while she maintains an appearance of calm. Stirling’s Helen is a worthy foil to her, all patrician vowels and buttoned-up denial, in pronounced contrast to Theresa’s doom. The stress around the vanished Alex starts putting pressure on other secrets.
You can see why Petzal is tipped for big things. As she builds this Jenga tower of deceit and recrimination, she remembers to season all the anguish with comedy. At exactly the worst moment, Eddie moots aloud that it’s the kind of area where you might find a lot of paedophiles. Later, Alex’s distraught mother Jean (Jodie McNee) discusses the number of local sex offenders. A neighbour’s husband installs broadband, she says, and “you learn a lot of things, installing broadband”. She sobs while a clock ticks in the otherwise silent living room. The scene is perilously close to comedy, and all the better for it. Despite this, and the performances – Martin and Stirling are supported especially well by Stone as the slightly-too-decent Fraser – Hollington Drive can’t avoid some of the clichés of the genre. The plinky “tense” score is especially annoying; as are Theresa’s flashbacks to her trauma, with their occasional use of naff slow-motion. The shocking revelations pile up too quickly to be given fair treatment. Even the most destructive unravelling has to go at its own pace, especially on quiet streets like these.