Chloe review: Scheming, sex and social climbing in compelling mystery
Erin Doherty leaves Princess Anne behind as a troubled temp drawn into the death of an apparent stranger.
By: Jon O'Brien.
Already swiped right on Netflix's brilliantly-named documentary The Tinder Swindler? Well, BBC One’s new Sunday night drama Chloe is another story of fake personas, intricate deception and the perils of the online world, which has the potential to leave your jaws well and truly dropped.
The brainchild of Sex Education writer and director Alice Seabright is a work of pure fiction, but it contains elements that will ring true for those of us who can’t get out of bed before scrolling endlessly through social media. That’s how we first meet our complicated heroine (or perhaps villain?) Becky Green (Erin Doherty). She’s still obsessing over the same Instagram-esque account when she’s tucking into her honey hoops at the breakfast table. It belongs to the titular Chloe (Poppy Gilbert), who had a seemingly picture-perfect life.
Is this simply a case of peer envy? In contrast to Chloe’s wedded bliss and opulent country mansion, Becky is a single temp agency worker who begrudgingly cares for her dementia-afflicted mother (Lisa Palfrey) in a cramped flat. Or is there a particular reason she’s fixated on the photos which look like they’ve been plucked straight from the pages of a glossy magazine?
Becky’s interest reaches new unsettling heights when she spots an intriguing, and ultimately final, post on Chloe’s account: a quote from The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out ("To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die"), which essentially serves as a suicide note. After learning from the police that the previous night’s two missed calls were made by the deceased in her final hours, Becky makes the logical next step to discover why: ingratiate herself into Chloe’s well-to-do inner circle by posing as an art gallery marketer named Sasha.
Changing identity already seems to be something of a part-time hobby for Becky. Even before all of the sleuthing, she gate-crashes a charity function pretending to be a cat-loving doula called Helena. And she’s fully credible in each guise too, effortless charmingly both as a fellow partygoer and a key member of the friendship group, while also quickly establishing a strong connection with its amiable lynchpin Livia (Pippa Bennett-Warner).
There’s fun to be had watching the various devious ways in which Becky engineers such relationships: deliberately puncturing Livia’s tyres at a health club in order to play the good Samaritan, for example, or taking advantage of widower Elliot’s (Billy Howle) hospitable nature by acting too drunk to drive home.
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She often seems to relish leaning into her Machiavellian streak. "I can’t lie to save my life," Becky tells Livia with a wink having just blagged her way into her yoga session. And then there’s the banter with Josh (Brandon Micheal Hall), a man on the periphery of the group who discovers, threatens to reveal and then helps to sustain her double life.
However, behind this brazenness, there’s also a deep sense of paranoia and a vivid troubling imagination, which is perhaps exacerbated by her mum’s brutal honesty – "You look like a weird little man," she’s told just before heading on a night out. Becky constantly envisages the derisory comments her new acquaintances might make about her when she leaves the room. Not only that, she continually ruminates on the social media images she’s forever perusing, which briefly come to life alongside dreamlike snapshots of Chloe’s last moments.
Having boosted Princess Anne’s popularity with her witty portrayal in the third and fourth seasons of The Crown, it’s little surprise that Doherty is able to flit between each of Becky’s multiple personalities – sullen daughter, diligent employee, high-flying socialite – with impressive conviction.
She also manages to draw sympathy from a character whose motives, no matter how unclear, are often questionable. There's an excruciating dinner party scene in which she’s belittled by Richard (Jack Farthing), a childhood friend of Chloe’s who appears to be more emotionally devastated by her passing than her husband. Becky is there under false pretences and yet, you pity her in that moment.
The opening episode sets the scene nicely, delivering a shocking ending which will leave you reassessing everything that’s gone before. But the much-slower second (and only other available for review) throws on the brakes somewhat, with the mystery stalling slightly due to an over-reliance on childhood flashbacks. Two episodes in and you do wonder how the story will possibly stretch to a further four.
Nevertheless, with a compelling lead performance in the Chloe cast, an intriguing central premise and a strong visual style, not to mention a haunting original score from Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, Chloe still appears worthy of a double tap.