Review: The Drowning - Slightly Contrived or Absolutely Thrilling?

Carly Horne celebrates another stellar performance from Jill Halfpenny

Carly Horne
9th February 2021
Credit: Channel 5, IMDb

SPOILERS for The Drowning below.

If you grew up in the UK, someway or another, you will have encountered Jill Halfpenny. Whether it be from her earliest TV appearance in Byker Grove or in more recent TV stints such as Three Girls; she's the sort of actress you can't help but be enthralled by. Therefore, I have to confess her presence as the series' lead was a massive pull for me towards The Drowning, which aired this week on Channel 5.

The series is set 9 years after the presumed death of 4 year-old Tom. What started as merely a family enjoying a beautiful summer's day by a lakeside ends in Tom's mother, Jodie (Jill Halfpenny) knee-deep in lake water screaming for her son. It's heartbreaking to say the least.

Jade Anouka and Jill Halfpenny, Credit: UnstoppableLtd, Twitter

When we catch up with the family at the start of the series, we can tell that for most of those affected, life has moved on. Ben (Dara Devaney), Tom's father and Jodie's ex-husband, has moved on with Kate (The Dark Mile's Deirdre Mullins) and has accepted his son's inevitable death for what it was - a tragic accident that he'd never really get full closure on. Jodie on the other hand, seems unable to move forward with her life and to accept her son's death. She is having to work much harder to build her new normal even 9 years on and has been abandoned by most people in her life, including her brother, Jason (Jonas Armstrong) and mother, Lynn (Deborah Findlay).

A series of bad choices begin when Jodie is sat in rush hour traffic, rehearsing for her business meeting over and over again when a group of school kids catch her eye. One boy in particular, with startlingly familiar curly hair and a scar under his eye, is enough for Jodie to bail on her do-or-die business meeting and instead, follows him to school. Thereafter, she attempts to get closer to the boy through forged DBS papers and an application to the school's music department, in an attempt to discern whether the boy is actually Tom, or if she has truly lost her mind.

I have to confess Jill Halfpenny's presence as the series' lead was a massive pull for me towards The Drowning

When she brings the matter up with Ben, he believes it's a case of the latter. Is this because he has made peace with Tom's death or because the implications of Jodie being right would tear his carefully constructed life to shreds?

During the first two episodes, I recall looking away while Jodie vandalised Mark's office or watched Daniel's football game from the sidelines. Not because it was suspenseful, but because Jodie was beginning to make me feel really uncomfortable. Credit where it's due to writer Tim Dynevor (Emmerdale), it's definitely a take on the effects of grief we haven't seen before.

For me, the questionable nature of Jodie's character is saved by a remarkable performance by Jill Halfpenny. It's not that I found Jodie's actions entirely implausible, but I think had anyone else played the lead I might have dismissed the entire premise of the show as unbelievable. As such, the vulnerability and intensity (as well as over 30 years of acting experience) Jill Halfpenny brings to the role made me root for Jodie, instead of dismissing her as a grieving mother who really ought to see a therapist.

Viewers will be particularly impressed by Cody Molko's portrayal of Daniel - especially upon hearing it was his first major TV role. Molko manages to capture the joy that Daniel feels, finally having a mother figure after losing his own 10 years ago, as well as the fear he feels after realising the lengths Jodie's family will go to to protect her from the consequences of her actions. Regardless, I have no doubt we'll be seeing more of Cody Molko on our screens.

Jill Halfpenny and Cody Molko, Credit: IMDb

The Drowning has so many twists and turns, however, at times it felt a little contrived. Perhaps however, it was merely a case of trying to fit so much detail and suspense into so few episodes which ended up leaving some parts of the plot underdeveloped. I would have liked to have seen more of Ade (Babs Olusanmokun), Jodie's employee and the link between she and the gang, as well as Jodie's essentially non-existent relationship with her family further explored. Given much of the series was filmed during the pandemic, I'm actually really impressed with the end result. Personally, I wasn't looking for a perfect show, I just wanted some escapism.

But while I just wanted more answers at the ending (don't worry, I won't spoil), I suppose that feeling of frustration would be mirrored in the Jodie that we are left with. While she finally finds out what really happened all those years ago, she is still just as in the dark as we are.

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