The House Across the Street, review: a pleasingly off-kilter thriller – if you don't take it seriously

Shirley Henderson stars as Claudia in The House Across the Street - Channel 5
Shirley Henderson stars as Claudia in The House Across the Street - Channel 5

Bitter experience teaches us that thrillers which promise good things in the opening episode often fall to pieces at the midpoint then descend into absolute bunk by the end. Last week I slogged to the end of ITV’s The Suspect, mainly because I couldn’t rest without knowing why that plumber kept popping up in the kitchen with suspiciously timed offers of coffee and/or beating up photographers in the back garden. It turned out the plumber was actually… oh, never mind. It’s so stupid that even typing it out makes me feel annoyed.

The good thing about Channel 5 is that they let me have all four episodes of their dramas in advance, so I can watch the whole thing and manage your expectations. Thus I can tell you that The House Across the Street doesn’t build to a brilliant finale. It crams far too much into its final episode and goes a little bit too mad (put it this way: there is a scene in which a woman puts on a pair of her male neighbour’s underpants).

But it’s not too bad. Netflix parodied this sort of thing in The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, and they can never be taken too seriously, but this one has a pleasingly off-kilter tone. No character behaves quite as you’d expect them to in a situation such as this, which involves a schoolgirl who disappears from a playground near her home.

Claudia (Shirley Henderson) is the school nurse and neighbour of the missing child. She has just recovered from breast cancer, her ex-husband has a new partner and a baby on the way, and she is losing connection with her teenage son. Claudia becomes creepily over-involved in the case, and we’re left to work out if that’s because she has something to do with it, or whether she’s just lonely and desperate to feel needed. The other suspects include George (Line of Duty’s Craig Parkinson, an actor with the charisma to lift every show he’s in), who arrives at the school to teach adult literacy; Joanne (Sara Powell), a nosy neighbour who appears to relish the drama; and the mother and father of the missing girl, because aren’t we conditioned not to trust the parents in these cases?

And something to bear in mind: you may need to switch on the subtitles. Not just because that’s true of most dramas on television these days, but because Henderson is an actress who delivers her lines in an unearthly whisper.