TV loves a tortured detective. The more compelling, the more astute the sleuth at solving crimes, the murkier their past, and no detective seems more weighed down by emotional baggage than Anna Friel’s Marcella Backland. And we mean that as a compliment. Spurred on by distressing events in her personal life, and affixed with an impregnable intuition – while suffering from a disorder which brings on violent blackouts during times of intense stress – Marcella will stop at nothing until she’s cracked the case.
ITV’s gripping crime drama from Nicola Larder and The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeld follows the eponymous detective, hot on the tail of a serial killer on the murder squad at London’s Edgware Road police station. As well as her demanding job, she has to contend with fractious family life including an adulterous (now ex) husband Jason (Nicholas Pinnock), using her disorder against her in an attempt to get full custody of their two children.
Friel won best actress at the International Emmy Awards for her performance as Marcella – two years after the series launched – and, in 2018, series two arrived. Since then, fans have been patiently awaiting series three after that major cliffhanger, as production was delayed due to the global pandemic. Series one and two are available to stream on Netflix.
But now she’s back. Presumed dead, scarred for life – both emotionally and literally – and platinum blonde, she’s shed the skin the of her former life to go undercover as Keira in order to infiltrate a criminal family in Belfast.
Could Marcella emerge from this new season not only unscathed and but vindicated from past horrors to find peace at last?
Friel has suggested as much during our interview (via Zoom), in-between small spoonfuls of soup as she sits on a chair cross-legged, laid-back and causal, at complete odds with the chaos and carnage of Marcella which erupts across the screen in series one, two and three.
“There’s quite a twist and a surprise for Marcella coming up, and I can kind of tell you… She could end up going to Cuba. She could go anywhere,” Friel told RadioTimes.com. “I think viewers will be quite surprised, as they were with season two, but pleasantly surprised this time… There might be some redemption.”
Redemption is needed. Marcella is the underdog we’ve all been rooting for since we first found her covered in blood, twigs and leaves, and disoriented in a bath tub, having recently buried the body of a murder victim during one of her blackouts. The victim was Grace Gibson (Maeve Dermody), the seven weeks pregnant women with whom Marcella’s husband had been having a three-year-long affair, and she was worried that she had murdered her. Friel revealed to us that she also thought Marcella was responsible throughout filming, as the show’s creators Rosenfeldt and Larder kept quiet the real culprit – who turned out to be Henry Gibson (Harry Lloyd), stepbrother to Grace.
“We never knew who the killer was and I actually thought it was going to be me,” Friel explained. “They wouldn’t tell any of us which I thought was really clever of them. So there was always a bit of suspicion and paranoia going on during filming, with me thinking, ‘Was it me?’ So no one actually played ‘I am the killer.’ I thought that was a really clever way of going about it.”
Season two was no kinder to our anti-heroine, who manages to solve a string of gruesome child murders while saving her own son in the process – but finding out through hypnotic therapy that she was responsible for the death of her baby daughter Juliette some years earlier.
“How can anybody go through that and not have it not haunt you so traumatically and drastically?” Friel reflected on the devastating denouement. “That’s why she cuts her face and cuts her hair: she doesn’t want to be herself anymore. She didn’t want to live.
“And after all the therapy and regression, it was so traumatic for her. She has post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s a very delicate subject isn’t it, mental health? No one could look at the screen [when she cut herself]. It’s understandable that poor girl, what else can you throw at her? She runs away, but you can’t run away from it – it will come back to haunt you.”
Her shocked and grief-stricken response is to sign over sole custody of her two children to Jason, before we found her being talked down from the top of a building by colleague and close friend DI Rav Sangha (Ray Panthaki), who later ended up with a cistern lid to the head from Marcella as a thank you. She then left her old life behind for this shiny new one as Keira.
And she is back in the bath, frightened and covered in blood – but it’s not her bath tub, and gone is the ponytail and iconic green parka. Her metamorphosis into the newly glamorous and ruthless ‘former cop’ Keira is complete, and she looks ready to usurp Amanda Burton’s chilling matriarch Katherine Maguire to become the head of the Maguire family.
The third instalment has a brand new format, which Friel says newcomers can enjoy as a standalone series, before watching seasons one and two.
“It’s not as complex as the other two and the structure has changed because it’s not a whodunit, it’s more about how am I going to bring down this family. It’s quite haunting,” she said.
There’s also a new cast including the aforementioned Burton (Silent Witness) as Katherine, Aaron McCukser as Katherine’s son Finn Maguire, Kelly Gough (The Fall, Broadchurch) as Katherine’s daughter Stacey, and Martin McCann as Stacey’s wayward husband. Michael Colgan plays Rory Maguire and Paul Kennedy plays Lawrence, Marcella’s contact within the family.
But there’s just one hitch: has Marcella become so beguiled by the Maguire family that she now wants to join them instead of taking them down? She’s managed to wheedle her way into of the bosom of the family, where she’s found acceptance, comfort, and respect, which she couldn’t get from her fractured home life in London, what with her petty ex-husband and two disinterested children. And we know she thrives off of danger and risk. Will she be able to relinquish her new-found luxury lifestyle of gold guns, four poster beds and black satin sheets?
“That’s basically the arc of the show,” Friel confirmed. “Marcella is much more preferring Keira and I’m not sure if she wants her old life back. I don’t think she thought there was anything redeeming abut herself and she has no point to live and that makes her even more fearless. And then she starts to come part of a world that then it starts to question her own moral compass and integrity.”
The series also has some eerily prescient storylines which are bound to resonate with viewers. Colgan’s enigmatic lawyer Rory Maguire has an OCD condition that has made him a reclusive germaphob. He rarely leaves the house and his compulsion for constantly washing his hand has earned him the nickname ‘Raw Hands’.
In the real world, COVID-19 continues to have a severe impact on mental health, leading to an increase in germaphobia-based obsessive compulsive behaviours (BBC). We’ve also been instructed to wash our hands more often to stop the spread of coronavirus, with cracked and sore hands the norm for many of us this winter.
Int the show, there’s also a harrowing moment in which the bodies of 10 workers, the victims of traffickers, are discovered in a lorry, echoing the devastating deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals who died inside a lorry container in Grays, Essex, in 2019.
“I thought, what a strange affliction to have to be scared of germs and he won’t touch anybody, won’t leave the house, and now that’s pretty normal,” Friel recalled. “People will think we only filmed the series last week. Rosethal has some kind of crystal ball to look into the future. That and the whole human trafficking story in the lorry – again, so similar that the court case that finished a few months ago.”
Along with new faces we also see some familiar ones: Hugo Speer reprises his role as Frank Young, Marcella’s undercover handler, and fan favourite DI Rav Sangha, Panthaki, is also back. The first episode teases an interaction between Rav and Marcella, but fans will have to wait and see how that reunion evolves.
“I think Rav has a secret love for her,” Friel mused. “I think he is the character who loves her most. If she dug deep, she loves him too, which she keeps running away from anyone kind or good because she’s afraid to lose it. “
As for the decision Marcella makes within the Maguire family – to take them down or join them – we suspect that ultimately, she will do the right thing.
“She doesn’t like baddies, she doesn’t like people to get away with things,” Friel affirmed. “I think too many people in her own life have got away with things that she can’t control… But when it’s in a work environment she can bring those bad guys down and she’ll stop at nothing, ”
The first two episodes of the new series of Marcella will air on ITV, Tuesday 26th January at 9pm and 10:05pm. All eight episodes of the series will then then be available to view on the ITV Hub. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide.