Some of the biggest dramas of the year might have involved submarines, arctic climes or Pennsylvanian serial killers.
But despite the obvious delights of the high concept hook, there are few more gripping story worlds than down to earth suburban horrors – and a missing kid.
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New ITV series Hollington Drive does exactly that with a look at a terrible incident which rips apart a close knit family in the heart of middle England.
Line of Duty’s Anna Maxwell Martin and her The Bletchley Circle co-star Rachael Stirling play neighbouring sisters Theresa and Helen whose relationship, already weighed down by a complicated past, is thrown into disarray when a child from down the street goes missing.
The kid’s disappearance comes just after the sisters’ own children were found arguing in a woodland area after an unexplained fall out.
Rashan Stone and Peter McDonald play the women’s respective partners as their cosy nuclear families go into meltdown amid the oncoming storm.
Martin, who virtually stole the final few episodes of Line of Duty with her trademark faux-smile, is no stranger to family disharmony as the star of acclaimed sitcom Motherland. But don’t expect many laughs from the street created by Blood writer Sophie Petzal.
Martin said: “I love thrillers, I hope the audience has a nice night in on the sofa watching it.
“It's very much a Stepford Wives idyll at the beginning, this very clean perfection, which of course is not real, it’s a veneer for lots of other things going on with these people.
“On paper this looks like another drama about a kiddie going missing, but it’s not that. This series is really not about the missing child – that’s just a catalyst to make people turn in on themselves.
“The real centrifugal force of the drama is this hideously co-dependent relationship between Theresa and Helen. It's very complex and you just can't really work out what's going on between them.“
Martin loved playing the fragile Theresa. She said: “She's a bit of an anti-hero really. She's often not very likeable and often not a very good parent, she makes lots of terrible decisions. She's slightly unhinged and I really liked that, because she's not a cookie cutter mother. She's very flawed. She’s dysfunctional and it becomes clear that she’s suffering with trauma.”
For her side of the family dynamic, Stirling said her character is very much the boss.
“Helen has never been out of control in her life, so she has always looked after Theresa and it suits her. Helen is now a primary school headteacher and a pillar of the community.
“She has an assumed authority about her – I know those people so well, the type that when they walk into a room you just do what they tell you to do, just because of their tone of voice, it’s that simple. She’s just very high status and you’d look to her during any sort of crisis.
“On the outside everything is great for Helen and she’s in charge, but on the inside she’s got her own demons and her depressed husband to deal with, which is never easy for him or her.”
Stirling continued: “Anna and I have worked together before on The Bletchley Circle. But what I really loved about the script was the chance to play out this fascinating relationship between co-dependent sisters. Apart from in long-running soaps we just don’t really see sisters on telly or really examine their relationships. I’ve never had a sister so I’m fascinated in that dynamic.”
With the subject matter, it’s no surprise to hear that things get very dark, very quickly.
Stirling admitted: “Some of it was very challenging and tough. When you’re filming those scenes, it’s not all entirely fake, you do have to visit some of those real emotions. After a project like that I always need to head towards a comedy, because it’s a very intense story to tell.
“You want it to be a really satisfying experience for the audience, so we’ve got to keep it tight and believable, and play the darkness.”
She warned: ”You only get a few minutes of gentle lulling into Hollington Drive before it grabs you by the neck and takes you on this ride with so much suspense.
“Dare you examine how far you would go to protect your child if you thought they had committed a crime? It’s a helter-skelter speed thriller ride from the off.”
Hollington Drive begins on ITV on Wednesday, 29 September at 9pm.
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