The Drowning review: A predictable yet gripping thriller about a grieving mother

Jill Halfpenny and Rupert Penry-Jones star in this Channel 5 drama about a missing child.

The Drowning
3.0 out of 5 star rating

Some crime dramas thrive off the familiar. Familiar characters, familiar settings, familiar storylines… For some (usually early evening) shows, the familiar is perfect. It creates a sense of cosiness that percolates, despite the gruesome murders in the plot.

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But in other, more serious crime dramas, the familiar can prove grating. Like when the script has the main character down bottles of red wine to indicate their angst. Or when there’s a big, sinister-looking modern house with lots and lots of glass (à la The Nest). Or characters who are just too nicey-nicey and supportive to be true.

The Drowning ticks all of those boxes, and more. The pairing of the heroine’s ex-husband and her former best friend feels distinctly déjà vu. So too does the family showdown around the kitchen table. 

During the first two episodes of The Drowning, I found there was a lot that felt familiar. And yet, I also found myself itching to know what would happen. And that’s probably because, despite its predictable trappings, the show’s premise taps into something universal, almost primal.

Many of us will have spotted a stranger in a crowd and mistaken them – for a split second – for someone we’ve loved and lost. But what if that stranger resembled your own child? A child missing, presumed dead, for almost a decade? 

In The Drowning, Jodie (Jill Halfpenny) is an ex-musician turned struggling business owner whose ex-husband left her for – that’s right – her own former best friend. Over the past nine years, Jodie has been slowly rebuilding her life since her young son, Tom, went missing at a lakeside family gathering, and was later presumed to have drowned. 

She’s in the car and on her way to a make-or-break, last-ditch business meeting with some prospective clients when she spots a curly-haired teenage boy on the pavement. In her eyes, he looks exactly like an older version of Tom – he even has the same scar under his eye.

Ditching her car and her all-important meeting, she follows him, by bus and later on foot, tailing him all the way to school.

When at the end of the day he’s whisked home by his brooding father (Mark, played by Rupert Penry-Jones), Jodie decides to take drastic steps in order to get close to the boy…

The Drowning
The Drowning
Channel 5

While from the outside, Jodie appears to have gone mad, there’s a kind of logic behind her impulsive choices – each step is designed to take her closer to the teenage boy, Daniel, whom she believes to be her son. And she will go to any lengths to achieve this, faking documents and even flirting with Mark, the man she thinks kidnapped her son all those years ago. 

The series promises lots of twists, and some of them may well seem obvious to viewers (I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but looking ahead, Jodie’s dependable brother seems far too well-adjusted). But despite some of the more predictable set-ups and revelations, at its heart the show is about a grieving woman.

And somehow, it’s by building the series around this most familiar of emotions that The Drowning still manages to feel fresh.

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The Drowning airs Monday to Thursday at 9pm from February 1st 2021 on Channel 5. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide.