Isn’t it wonderful when a TV thriller delivers a conclusion that isn’t ridiculous? An explanation that is surprising – yet satisfying? Something that will leave you turning those final moments over in your mind for days to come?
Katherine Kelly and Molly Windsor had us glued to our television sets for four consecutive nights as the mystery behind ITV’s Cheat began to reveal itself, with screenwriter Gaby Hull spinning a tale of infidelity, manipulation, and murder.
For such a stressful thriller, ITV’s Cheat has an unusually happy ending where everyone gets pretty much what they deserve (in a rough justice kind of way).
We find out that Rose (Molly Windsor) was convicted and jailed; and two years later, Leah (Katherine Kelly) has a beautiful son, an academic position, and two books to her name. Slimy cheater Adam (Tom Goodman-Hill) is long dead and buried, Rose’s odious “father” William (Adrian Edmondson) may be about to join him, and Michael (Peter Firth) has been kicked out of the family home – at least, for now.
In fact, the only characters whose fates we can truly mourn are Leah’s murdered cat Betsy (poor Betsy!) and William’s black labrador Hunter, who most likely snuffs it in the last minute of the final episode. It’s a rough drama for pets.
But across the whole drama, everything has been leading up to the moment in the prison visiting room when Leah and Rose face each other head-on. Here, the truth about Adam’s death finally comes spilling out.
Windsor gives a powerful performance as Rose, with arresting blue eyes that can switch from innocence to malice in a fraction of a second. Now, she tells Leah that she didn’t stab Adam in self-defence, after all; it was actually cold-blooded murder. She then used a second knife covered in Leah’s finger prints to stab him a second time.
Rose went to extraordinary lengths to frame Leah, but in case that didn’t work (as it ultimately didn’t), she had her lackey Ben (Burn Gorman) bruise her neck with fingerprints to back up her story that she murdered Adam in self-defence. Hence only two years behind bars.
So why did she do it? According to Rose, her motives were entirely altruistic: she wanted to save her beloved new-found sister Leah from a lifetime in a miserable marriage with the spineless, self-centred, cowardly Adam. “He cheated on you, Leah. He slept with me when he knew that you were pregnant. Don’t tell me you’re not happier without him,” she says, with utter conviction.
Is it true? Does she believe it herself, when she went to such lengths to pin the murder on Leah – and almost got away with it? Or was it an act of vengeance against the biological father who wronged her? Perhaps even she doesn’t know any more. The terrifying thing about this character is that she has become so unhinged, so unnervingly hard to take at face value. Come to think of it, she would probably get on great with Killing Eve‘s clever and psychopathic assassin Villanelle.
The drama ends on a chilling note as Leah reads a letter from her half-sister, now about to finish her time behind bars. “You were right about fixing my problems, finding something to live for,” she writes. “So I followed your advice and I went back to the start, and realised the only way I can sort things out is if I forgive mum and sort things out with William. So that’s what I did. I think I’ve started to feel better already. Love, Rose.”
And when Rose says “sort things out,” she really means “send my accomplice Ben to stab him in the woods while he walks his dog.” It’s a subtle distinction.
When Hull originally took this story to executive producers Harry and Jack Williams (of Liar and The Missing fame), it was pitched as a 90-minute feature. They suggested he write it as a self-contained TV mini-series, and that’s turned out to be exactly the right decision – because four episodes is the perfect length for this story.
From Paula to The Replacement, so many recent TV thrillers have gone off the rails at the end with bizarre plot lines and unbelievable explanations; how refreshing to watch a drama as solid as Cheat.