That Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee’s latest project is different from her Northern Ireland-set comedy is an understatement. The Deceived is a dark thriller that promises to shine light on gaslighting while paying homage to gothic classics, featuring a manor house haunted by a dead wife and mysterious knocks from behind locked doors.
Even in the first episode alone, there are plenty of similarities with Rebecca, the gothic 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier.
The book follows an orphaned 20-something woman who moves into a spooky manor house with her new husband, and finds that he and the household staff are haunted by the memory of his ex-wife, Rebecca. At one point, the narrator accidentally wears a dress that was worn by Rebecca before her death, after being tricked by the housekeeper – a creepy older woman obsessed with Rebecca. At the end of the book, the house is set on fire.
In The Deceived’s opening episode, orphaned Ophelia is a young woman who has an affair with her university lecturer, Michael, and eventually follows him to his spooky manor house that was recently set on fire, killing his late wife, Roisin. Ophelia borrows a jumper, not realising that it belonged to Roisin, and is accosted by Roisin’s mother – a creepy older woman obsessed with her late daughter (sound familiar?). Ophelia even worries about how she matches up to Roisin, remembering a chance encounter with her before her death.
However, while du Maurier’s character Rebecca is revealed to be a calculating, compulsive liar with psychopathic tendencies, one gets the sense that that will not be the revelation in The Deceived – that instead the seemingly charming Michael (played by Emmett J. Scanlan) cannot stay charming forever.
Emily Reid, who plays Ophelia, has already hinted as much in a statement about the role and the importance of highlighting the issue of gaslighting and how women are abused psychologically.
“We have had a big movement over the past few years looking at the way women have been abused in relationships – but often that is looked at from a physical or sexual point of view,” she said, “and it is really important to also look at it from a psychological and emotional point of view.”
In that sense, The Deceived also bears similarities to the recent David Tennant drama Deadwater Fell, in which Tennant played a gaslighting and emotionally abusive husband. The series was told in flashbacks, beginning (like The Deceived) with the foreknowledge that the marital home will be set on fire, before slowly revealing cracks behind the central couple’s seemingly perfect marriage – including his philandering. The houses from both shows even look the same.
Alongside Reid and Scanlan, The Deceived’s cast includes Catherine Walker (Shetland) as Roisin, a famed fiction writer whose career outpaced Emmett’s before her death, and Paul Mescal, best known for his (recently Emmy-nominated) role as Connell in BBC Three’s Normal People.
Since Normal People, Mescal has famously amassed an ardent fan base, and even social media accounts dedicated to Connell’s chain necklace. There’s no chain necklace in The Deceived, but Mescal does play a volunteer fireman, and is set up in the first episode to become Ophelia’s confidante and shoulder to cry on.
So far his role doesn’t seem too important, but he’s been featured heavily in the show’s promotional material – it’s unclear yet whether that’s down to the role itself, or rather the boost Mescal’s presence could do for viewing figures.
When I watched The Deceived’s opening episode, I didn’t know that Lisa McGee had co-written it. As a Derry Girls fan, perhaps that was for the best – I found the episode cheesy at points, and I also struggled to connect with Ophelia as a character or with her relationship with Michael.
Whether intentionally referential or not, the episode also suffers as a result of the plot comparisons with great gothic and supernatural works, or else the very recent and acclaimed Deadwater Fell.
My hope is that going forward, the show will take the viewer down unexpected paths, and more novel territory. But even if it doesn’t, the show makes for easy viewing – and for Normal People fans bereft of a second season, there’s the chance to see Mescal on-screen once more.
The Deceived will air from Monday August 3rd at 9pm on Channel 5. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.