Keeley Hawes must be one of the most hardworking actresses around. The last few years have seen her in The Durrells, Bodyguard, Traitors, Summer of Rockets, Line of Duty, Year of the Rabbit, Honour, Rebecca, Mrs Wilson, and more; already in 2021 she’s got a film coming out on Sky (To Olivia) and a Channel 4 show (It’s A Sin). When does she sleep?
And that’s not even to mention the drama we’re talking about today: ITV’s Finding Alice – which sees her working very hard indeed. She’s in every scene of the intense six-hour drama – oh, and she’s an Executive Producer too.
Hawes has reunited with the team behind The Durrells (Simon Nye, Roger Goldby) to create a blackly comic drama about Alice, a woman who suddenly loses her beloved partner Harry when he falls down the stairs of their fancy new home – leaving her behind to a) cope with intense grief and b) uncover all his (many) secrets.
In some ways, Finding Alice is a hard watch. It’s a drama about death and grief and lies! That’s heavy stuff! But thankfully Alice herself is a wonderful creation, refusing to fit neatly into the “grieving widow” box and disconcerting everyone around her with dark jokes and erratic behaviour and her utter determination to do things just the way she wants.
That determination comes into play when she discovers that the family’s bank account is empty, beginning the first step to the unravelling of Harry’s secrets. As a seemingly-successful builder and property developer, Harry was the one who designed and built the ultra-modern technology-filled “smart house” we see on screen, presenting it proudly to Alice and their daughter Charlotte. But in the opening minutes of the first episode, on the very day they move in to the house, he is found dead at the bottom of the bannister-free floating staircase. Not a very smart house after all. (Learn more about where they filmed the Finding Alice smart house).
Harry was the family’s main breadwinner, but now it emerges that he was gliding along on the surface while paddling furiously underwater. The question of whether Alice can even keep the new house is totally up in the air. So – what will she do now? And how will she grieve when new secrets and problems keep coming out of the woodwork?
While this is very much “the Keeley Hawes show”, she’s not the only standout in the Finding Alice cast. Joanna Lumley is wonderfully awful as Alice’s mother, a spiky character with no tact and no respect for Alice’s mild-mannered dad (played by Nigel Havers). We’ve also got Charlotte (Isabella Pappas), whose own grief gets sidelined by the need to look after her mother. Then there are her worried in-laws (Gemma Jones and Kenneth Cranham), who wish she’d just see sense and not joke around so much.
Sharon Rooney also pops up in the first few episodes as Harry’s younger sister Nicola, giving us some brilliant interactions with Hawes’s Alice. (I’m told there’s much more Nicola to come later in the series.) Plus, there’s tetchy (but secretly caring) mortician Nathan (Rhashan Stone) and his gaggle of mourners from the bereavement group he runs at the hospital.
The one thing I did find a little odd was the feeling that this drama might turn into a murder mystery at any moment. Did someone kill Harry? Did he really just fall down the stairs by accident? Did Alice or Charlotte kill him?? The police keep turning up (Matthew Flynn as Detective Davis; Charlyne Francis as Detective Prior), and they clearly think something is suspicious. So, as a viewer, do I.
But, as Roger Goldby explained in a Q&A, “It isn’t a whodunnit, it’s Alice’s story through grief. And I guess we needed story. And a sudden death, an unexpected death… naturally throws up shock, secrets, mess, all of these things kind of came out very organically from that set-up.”
Which all makes sense. And yet it still feels like the show is teasing the edges of a whodunnit without actually going there, borrowing elements of a genre it won’t commit to.
But despite that, the unanswered questions around Harry’s pre-death shenanigans will certainly keep me watching as the plot develops. And ultimately, it’s Alice who is the main draw; an unusual, intriguing character given plenty of depth by the show’s writers and Hawes herself. To borrow the show’s title, I’m finding Alice well worth watching.
Finding Alice airs on Sunday 17th January at 9pm on ITV. Check out what else is on with our TV guide.