August 14, 2019
The comparisons with HBO’s blockbuster are inevitable, but with panto villains, bathroom sex and bumper soap-opera levels of action, I’ll be back for more
Deep Water review – its Britains answer to Big Little Lies
Much has already been made of how similar Deep Water (ITV) is to Sky Atlantic’s Big Little Lies. At first you think that is just the sort of comparison everything has to have these days – the new Fleabag, etc – but, goodness, it is inescapable here. Here we have a group of school-run mothers with whom appearances are deceptive, incomes are contrasting and there is at least one beautiful house to look at. There are watery backdrops – the Lake District is a fine substitute for Monterey, California – and a swoony soundtrack.
It is a bit irritating because, based on the novels by Paula Daly, Deep Water has the making of an interesting story in its own right, the cast is good and the locations are gorgeous. Hopefully, as it goes on, the comparison will seem less glaring.
It opened with a boy, Sam, falling overboard on a boat trip with his friend’s family. Sam might be a bit of a bully – he was mean to his friend Fergus, who wears an eye patch – but it was unclear whether Fergus pushed Sam in. Anyway, Fergus’s dad Guy dived in to save him (“my Baywatch moment”) and all was well again for the family. For now.
Next, we were on our way to school where working mums Roz and Lisa were chaotic and stressed. Book bags were lost, ingredients for cookery class went missing, historical dress-up day was forgotten and wasn’t it only just “World bloody Book Day,” complains Lisa. The third woman, Kate – Fergus’s mum – appeared looking perfect, with her son in full Roman emperor costume. As if to underline her apparent ease through life, she had perfectly laundered Sam’s clothes from the near-disaster on the boat. “Gosh, ironed,” says Lisa. “He won’t know what’s hit him.”
Lisa (Anna Friel), who runs a kennels, was endearingly pleased when Kate (Rosalind Eleazar) suggested coffee, even more so when Kate flattered her after discussing the bullying by her son: “I told Guy: ‘Lisa will understand, she’s one of us.’” When Kate invited Lisa and her taxi-driver husband to dinner – or rather, that most middle-class “kitchen supper” – Lisa could barely contain her gratitude. So seduced with Kate’s Farrow & Ball-ed lakeside house, and her rich relations – the other guests were sister Alexa and her husband, Adam, a cosmetic surgeon – it didn’t take much to throw her scruffy life overboard. Adam followed her to the bathroom and they had the kind of sex that always makes me worry about the integrity of the wash basin.
Roz (Sinead Keenan), meanwhile, a physiotherapist, was struggling with debt. Her partner, Winston, was out of work and a bit useless, too – although it was later revealed he has a gambling addiction. He got one day of work but, instead of being paid in cash, he took a saxophone. Perhaps it was a small mercy that they were about to be evicted, because what could be worse than living with someone who likes to play the sax? Still, Roz was understandably furious.
On the surface, Deep Water is entertainingly watchable, but lurking not too far beneath is the feeling that it is all so implausible. I don’t think bailiffs are allowed to enter an empty house, however much a plot requires them to – Roz returned home to find they had taken her fridge. Was Lisa really so disorganised that she forgot to put her knickers back on after that surprise bathroom incident? And would she – panicking after a hilariously naff flashback – drive back the next day to try to retrieve them? She must have guessed that Kate wouldn’t tolerate dirty pants on the floor, no matter how many bathrooms she has. Of course, Kate found them – “the most hideous thong, really tarty” – but thought, or pretends to think, they belong to her 14-year-old daughter, Lulu.
At the end, Lulu had disappeared – a lot happened in one episode – and it was apparently Lisa’s fault. Because she’s so chaotic, presumably because she has children and a job – “I’m juggling too much, Joe,” she told her husband – she forgot Lulu was supposed to be coming for a sleepover, although it was unlikely that her own teenage daughter would have forgotten, too.
Some of the dialogue is excruciating, with Kate suffering the worst of it. “You know, the one-eyed monster from Greek mythology,” she says to Lisa, explaining Sam’s bullying insult, as if you only know what a cyclops is when you know your Homer. At the awful dinner, she and Alexa had an argument after gossiping about the marriage of a woman they know. “We both know how damaging a divorce is for children,” says Kate, obviously conveying significant backstory, but jarring nonetheless.
Then there are the soapy supporting characters. Roz’s brother is a camp chef. Alexa is a panto villain who calls Lisa “working mummy” with an unnecessary contempt that doesn’t ring true. Scott, one of Roz’s clients, seems too smooth to be real, with all the signifiers of a Successful Businessman – nice car, flash suit – although he doesn’t seem to spend much time at work, since he is always at her practice or popping up in the background wherever she is, like a silvery executive Where’s Wally. He passed her house one day; saw her with her brother on another. “Are you following me?” Roz asked. “This is Windermere, the world’s smallest town,” he says. She is probably going to take up his “business proposition” to pay the bills. “I’m looking for a discreet physical arrangement,” he says, creepy and unblinking.
Despite all this, I am going to stick with it, mostly for the aspirational property and the liquid scenery. Not the best reasons, I know, but that’s also what kept me watching Big Little Lies.
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