Warning: this article touches on subject matter that some readers may find distressing
Angela Black is a drama about a victim of domestic abuse, Angela (played by Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt). There are also car chases, and a potential murder plot, but the opening episode is at its most powerful when it hones in on Angela’s experiences of abuse and violence in her own home.
With a murder plot – standard fare for primetime crime dramas – viewers will feel like they’re on familiar ground. But in those scenes where Angela experiences gaslighting, or attempts to leave her husband, the ground slips and slides out beneath our feet – and hers. The drama (which collaborated with charity Women’s Aid) takes such great care in conveying the subtleties, and the small, everyday manipulations. The message to real-life victims watching the series is clear: ‘You are not alone.’
Angela spends her life walking on eggshells, as shown in the very first scene: a dinner party, hosted by her and her secretly abusive husband, Olivier (Michiel Huisman). Their friends are discussing drinks coasters (obviously, the conversation has been sparkling up until this point). Is Angela a coaster-person? She’s unsure, instead turning to Olivier. “Are we coaster people?” she asks him.
Later, she commits a supposed faux-pas, at least in Olivier’s eyes. When their guests leave, the violence (all off-screen) comes from nowhere. We hear screams, before the camera falls on a loose, bloodied tooth on the kitchen tiles, beside Angela’s bright blonde hair. The next morning, she’s applying concealer with a practised hand. She has an excuse for everyone. At the dentist, she claims her young son opened a door in her face. “Psychopaths aren’t they, at that age.”
The episode’s best scene is the conversation Angela and Olivier have when she returns home and packs her bags. He is calm, and charming. Over the course of the scene, he twists and manipulates every topic, every reason she gives for leaving. She can’t take the boys with her, he says. “Don’t rush them away from the house again. They were so scared last time.”
Gripping the door handle, bags at her feet, Angela contemplates what people would think if they knew about her situation. If they knew that she still hadn’t left him. “What a stupid woman they’d think I was,” she says, in tears. She lets go of the door handle, and returns upstairs.
The show also makes repeated use of animal imagery, all apparently alluding to the off-screen violence between husband and wife. There’s a flattened fox on the road outside the Blacks’ home, minutes before we’re shown a glimpse of Angela lying on her kitchen floor. There’s a subplot about a violent dog that Angela cares for at a volunteer animal shelter: she removes its muzzle, despite prior warnings, and gets bitten.
And in the dinner party scene, Angela recounts her findings about hippos from a nature documentary. Crucially, they attack for no reason: not for food, not for territory. Just because they want to.
From the end of episode one, Angela must grapple with a new, darker revelation: Olivier means to have her killed.
Ten minutes into the episode we meet Ed (The Hatton Garden Job’s Samuel Adewunmi), an apparent stranger who approaches Angela on Halloween night. Her sons are at a party, and she’s having a quiet drink by the River Thames, unable to face returning home. Later in the episode, Ed unexpectedly reappears. He claims to be a private investigator hired by Olivier to follow Angela, tracking her movements and gathering any information that could help in a divorce court. Now, however, Olivier is looking to rid himself of his wife in a much more permanent manner…
It’s a big twist (if indeed Ed is telling the truth), and I’m sure that the following five episodes will continue to keep viewers guessing. But take away the car chases and elaborate murder plots, and this would still be an accomplished and powerful drama, and one that will resonate.
Angela Black continues on Sundays at 9pm on ITV. While you’re waiting, see where Angela Black was filmed or check out our Angela Black episode one questions. Also, take a look at our other Drama coverage or find out what else is on with our TV Guide.