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The best way to spot a great drama? Check how good the coats are

Introducing the Coat Test™, Alison Graham's argument why The Replacement is worth watching

Published: Tuesday, 28th February 2017 at 9:27 am

I love fashion, though you wouldn’t know that to look at me. But I spend a fortune on shiny, paving-stone-sized magazines and I happily while away an hour or two gazing at photographs of earrings. The last pair I liked the look of turned out to cost £4.25 million so I put down the magazine and walked out into the snow, sobbing.


But my love of fashion has a degree of influence on my own, highly personal Am I Going to Enjoy This Drama? checklist. This includes my “That’s a nice coat” observation, so if I say aloud in the first few minutes of any drama of a female character, “That’s a nice coat”, then I know, for better or for worse, I’m in for the long haul.

For better – Apple Tree Yard, where Emily Watson wore a very chic, mulberry-coloured knee-length wraparound coat that I adored, even as she was ripping it off in the throes of passion. For worse – The Replacement, BBC1’s fantastically torrid new crime thriller where every female character wears a covetable coat.

Even better, The Replacement reminds me of my beloved Mistresses, one of my greatest television pleasures ever, a drama packed with great clothes, lovely interiors, people who drink wine during the day and not with lunch, women who behave only like women in dramas rather than like women in real life, and an avalanche of middle-class angst. It was awful, but I loved every minute. To this day if I need a boost, I seek out my three-series box set and wallow.

The Replacement has all of the above, and, possibly, a murder, too. It’s written by a man (Joe Ahearne) and plays on women’s supposed insecurities about being usurped by other women while they take maternity leave.

Ellen (Morven Christie) is a hotshot in a Glasgow architectural practice who chafes with jealousy and anxiety when her maternity cover, the smiling, considerate, effusive Paula (Vicky McClure), gets her well-shod feet under the table and makes herself just that bit too comfortable.

Most television dramas warn women to beware of men. Here, in The Replacement, women must beware of other women, who will come in and swipe your fabulous job right from under your nose.

So, just one more thing for women to be afraid of, and yet more reasons for a certain kind of man to think, “Ah yes, women in powerful positions, crying, sniping and weeping, they’re all like that. Pah!”

Vicky Mcclure as Paula, and Morven Christie as Ellen

But The Replacement is still a rich, thick bouillabaisse of cliché and melodrama, the sort of drama that leaves you saying aloud, “I really shouldn’t be watching this; I should find a David Attenborough documentary on another channel, but I can’t turn away.”

I adored the first episode. Everyone in it is awful, including the architects’ creepy male boss who insists on “a group hug” after an argument. And instead of calling HR, the women do actually go in for a “group hug”. Shudder. Ellen herself is so annoying you’ll be rooting for Paula to stitch her up like a kipper, steal her job, kill everyone in the practice and dance about on their graves.

Ellen’s husband is supposed to be a psychiatrist, a man who treated her after a bout of depression, but he makes as much of a convincing psychiatrist as I would if someone asked me to play a psychiatrist and I wore a badge saying, “I’m a psychiatrist”.

There’s creepy piano music to signal Bad Things and best of all, everything you expect to happen, happens. There’s even a classic cheap horror moment, which I won’t spoil, but you’ll know it when you see it. What more can you ask for? Heaven!


The Replacement is on Tuesday 9.00pm, BBC1


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