By: Michael Hogan
One always hesitates to pit women against each other. However, we’re afraid that Danielle was throughly overshadowed by Victoria. After Suranne Jones’ devastating portrayal of anxiety provided a strong start to Channel 4’s trilogy of standalone dramas, this second episode represented a considerable dip in quality. A shame, since it had the potential to be just as powerful.
Letitia Wright, BAFTA-winning star of Black Panther and Small Axe, played the protagonist this time and gave a likeably low-key performance, all troubled brows, pensive stares and shy smiles. This was a more subtle affair, lacking the highly-strung histrionics of last week. Yet it also felt flimsy by comparison. Sometimes semi-improvised stories miss a strong script.
Wright starred as ambitious fashion photographer Danielle, who tentatively allowed herself to fall for Michael (CJ Beckford), a male model with whom she’d been working. But as the couple embarked on a hesitant romance, was this chilled-out charmer “for real”?
Cautious to the point of paranoia, Danielle had trust issues which we never really got to the root of. Her parents had divorced but that’s not unusual. Was another trauma lurking in her past? She confessed she found it hard to read people (hardly ideal for a photographer), so was forever grilling Michael about his true intentions.
Still, on coffee dates and canal-side walks, friendship gradually turned to something deeper. “I feel proper happy,” Danielle admitted with a cheeky grin. So far, so sweet – if a little ponderous.
However, their happiness was undercut by a creeping sense of foreboding. This was a TV drama, after all. The fairytale was surely too good to be true. Once she’d finally allowed herself to fall in love, a disturbing revelation about Michael’s past poleaxed Danielle and threatened to spin her right off the rails.
After she “went official” on Instagram by posting a soppy selfie with her new beau, former college friend Natalie (Behind Her Eyes’ Simona Brown) got in touch. In a gut-wrenching scene, she told Danielle that Michael had raped her six years previously. It was a sobering reminder that the dating scene’s so-called “nice guys” aren’t always what they seem.
When a distraught, hyper-ventilating Danielle dashed to confront Michael, it wasn’t the cathartic showdown of Hollywood cliché. He immediately admitted his guilt and volunteered to turn himself over to the police. By “doing the right thing”, he desperately hoped to salvage their relationship but she admitted: “I love you but I can’t be with you.”
Even though he took responsibility, all the painstakingly built trust was gone. There were tear-streaked cheeks and sisterly hugs. Michael making himself accountable and Danielle’s unwavering acceptance of Natalie’s testimony were both welcome developments, if not quite a happy ending. Meanwhile, Danielle strode away with firm resolve, determined to move forward and forge a future.
Her chemistry with husky-voiced flatmate Tara (the superb Sophia Brown, who you might recognise from The Witcher, Marcella, Giri/Haji or The Capture) was far more convincing than her relationship than Michael. Scenes of the two friends gently teasing one another or dancing to Chaka Khan’s ‘I’m Every Woman’ were a little romcom-esque, admittedly, but crackled with life.
There was a neat nod to Wright’s Marvel CV when Tara told her: “Dani, your standards are so hight. This guy’s gonna have to be a superhero.” Even her raw heart-to-hearts with Natalie had more impact than the central romance. Perhaps this was partly intentional. After all, it was female friendships to which Danielle would return for support in her time of crisis.
I Am Danielle came frustratingly close to being a nuanced love story about consent and modern dating, about integrity and selfhood in the social media age. Written and directed by Dominic Savage, in close collaboration with Wright herself, there was the germ of an intriguing and impactful idea here.
London looked ravishing in the hazy sunlight. Wright’s performance shone, feeling truthful and real in parts, but was ultimately let down by an undercooked script. Unsure of what it was trying to say, this plucky little playlet didn’t hit the spot. Even the soundtrack’s mournful piano motif felt clumsy, recalling a Yellow Pages ad.
The awkwardness of conversation was so accurate, it felt repetitive. Characters’ earnest over-analysis tipped over into navel-gazing. The narrative meandered for too long, meaning that when the drama finally showed its hand, it came too late. There was little time left to do anything truly meaningful with the premise and the resolution felt rushed.
Next week’s finale – I Am Maria, starring the mighty Lesley Manville – is much more up to the Suranne Jones standard. It might even exceed it. For now, though, this was a chance missed. More of a work-in-progress than a fully realised story. Danielle deserved better.