A star rating of 4 out of 5.

BBC One drama The Girl Before presents the viewer with not three, but four lead characters. There is Jane (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a grieving mother; visionary architect Edward (David Oyelowo); and Emma (Jessica Plummer), the titular ‘girl before’. But the fourth lead is the beautiful, minimalist house that connects all three characters.


Designed by Edward Monkford, occupants of One Folgate Street must abide by his list of exacting rules in order to live there. But, three years apart, both Jane and Emma find themselves drawn to the starkly modern house, and to the challenge of abiding by Edward's rules, which require them to put aside any items that aren’t ‘essential’ to their lives.

The rent is ridiculously low; instead, the house’s virtual system “Housekeeper” collects data on the inhabitants and their intimate habits – on which spaces they use most, or what temperature they prefer in the shower.

Both women apply to live at the house. Jane is single, but Emma is accompanied by her insecure boyfriend, Simon. The two women are dealing with recent trauma: Jane’s daughter was stillborn, while Emma was robbed at knifepoint. Their shared desperation to move out of their former homes (which, for both of them, evoke painful memories of their respective traumas) seems to appeal to Edward, who interviews them at his office three years apart.

Both women also act as though they’ve won a lottery of sorts when they’re handed the keys (or in this case, electronic bracelet) to the house - although Simon seems less keen, proving suspicious of the charismatic Edward.

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Like One Folgate Street itself, the drama seduces, lulling viewers into a false sense of security - before ratcheting up the tension. The house is a pressure cooker: stripped bare of distractions, its residents (in both separate timelines) have nowhere to hide.

Before moving in, Emma fills in a questionnaire for Edward, including a question about whether she’d ever be happy living with a ‘second-rate partner’. As the episode goes on, it becomes clear how much her answer is playing on her mind.

the girl before

David Oyelowo is perfectly cast as the enigmatic Edward: in another actor’s hands, the character would come across as sinister from the get-go, but instead he’s charming and oddly vulnerable. In episode one, he connects with Jane, going out for coffee with her and proposing a relationship as unconventional as the house he’s built, stripped bare of anything ‘unessential’, like romantic gestures or Valentine’s Day gifts.

The similarities between Emma and Jane are frequently highlighted: in one split-screen montage, showing the two unpacking three years apart, they are dressed in the exact same rust-red shade. But it’s not until flowers begin appearing outside the house, and Jane learns that they’re for someone else, that she discovers ‘the girl before’.

It's soon revealed that Emma met a troubling fate three years ago, and the house has been empty ever since. Looking at a press photo of Emma, we see Jane register the resemblance between herself and her predecessor.

However, as the two timelines interweave at the end of episode one, the question remains: will Jane confront those similarities in time?

The Girl Before premieres on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on Sunday December 19 2021 - find out who else stars in The Girl Before cast, or if you've already binged the season you can read our The Girl Before ending explainer. While you're waiting, take a look at our other Drama coverage, or find out what else is on with our TV guide.


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