The psychological adultery thriller about a woman having an affair with her married boss is Behind Her Eyes, the new Netflix series based on the novel by Sarah Pinborough. Addiction, lucid dreaming, British classism, lies, and trauma are also at stake. Between Her Eyes, however, is more a series about its conclusion. With straightforward clarification, the pieces are set up. Simona Brown is Louise, the protagonist; Tom Bateman is David, her boss; Eve Hewson plays Adele, David’s wife; and Robert Aramayo plays Rob, Adele’s friend, who has seen Adele’s enigmatic history in flashbacks.
Last night I dreamt I went to Parminster again … That’s where Doctor Foster lived with her terrible husband, remember? Before he ran off with Jodie Comer. Such twisty psychological thrillers set in enviable bourgeois domesticity don’t always bag the Baftas. They are, however, often where British telly excels, by creating appointment sofa-time, even in our on-demand age. The latest Netflix release, Behind Her Eyes, looks like a promising attempt to muscle in on ITV’s territory, seduce her husband, steal her baby and turn all her closest friends against her. But appearances can be deceptive.
This six-part series is based on Sarah Pinborough’s 2017 novel and concerns the menacing love triangle that develops when single mum Louise (Simona Brown) gets talking to a handsome Scottish stranger, David (Tom Bateman), during a night out. His handsome Scottishness is underlined by his drink order: Macallan whisky, retailing at £12 a measure. It’s only when Louise arrives at work on Monday that she realises Dr David Ferguson is her new boss, a psychiatrist at the practice where she works as a secretary.
Awkward. And it’s about to get more so, because he’s also married, and has moved to the area with his beautiful-but-unhinged wife, Adele, in tow (Eve Hewson, last seen starring in The Luminaries). Adele quickly forges her own bond with Louise, through their shared history of “night terrors”.
Given this theme of disordered sleep, you would expect Behind Her Eyes to visually blur the line between wakefulness and dream state, but its sense of place and character is also hazy in other, less artful ways. The setting is somewhere vaguely in London, where you can turn the corner from the Fergusons’ posh, tree-lined avenue into Louise’s council estate, but a lack of specificity means it might as well be Parminster.
Class and racial divides are broadly gestured at, but never in such as way as to illuminate our understanding of the characters or their relationships. Then there’s the “adult contemporary” soundtrack of Radio 2 playlist favourites, which only manages to deepen the impression that these guys have no distinct personalities.
It’s also not a particularly sexy show, despite sex scenes a plenty. David and Louise’s illicit trysts lack chemistry and, while Hewson smoulders entertainingly as Adele – with a particularly nice line in quivering micro-expressions captured in closeup – her emotions never properly explode. She’s drawn from that noble literary tradition of justifiably crackers first wives, but it seems her attic fire-setting days are long behind her.
Who knew threesomes could be so dull? At least this creates room to shine at the margins, and Tyler Howitt (who played Billy Costa in His Dark Materials) does as Louise’s cute and perceptive – but never precocious – son, Adam. Georgie Glen, an actor who has shown her comic flair in sitcoms such as Damned and Sally4Ever, is under-utilised as Louise’s nosy colleague, Sue. And Robert Aramayo is charismatic as Rob, Adele’s gossipy, heroin-addicted rehab confidante, who appears only in flashback. Will we discover what became of Rob in a future episode? Fingers crossed he turns up at the practice’s reception one stormy night to spill some dark, Scottish secrets.
So Rob’s fun, but only relatively so, being as he is, essentially, a pound shop Renton from Trainspotting, right down to the shaven head and shrunken tees. Still, in a show about smooth sociopaths playing some tedious long game, you can find yourself warming to any character who will cause a scene. For the most part, the Fergusons’ dinner parties go without a hitch, Louise’s sad-single-lady wine glasses remaining disappointingly un-smashed. When someone creeps furtively into the basement, it’s always for legitimate housekeeping reasons and never – alas – to check on a rotting corpse that’s stowed away.
This show’s most vivid colours are reserved for dream sequences, but even these feel like another missed opportunity to lean into lurid melodrama. One, for example, involves little Adam laughing manically, while Louise runs along a corridor that winds off into infinity. She wears a canary-yellow straitjacket, so chic you can probably buy a knock-off at Asos.
Should you stick it out? Reviews of Pinborough’s novel promise an unguessable plot twist that’s worth waiting for; its publication was publicised with a “WTFthatending” hashtag on Twitter. The pace definitely picks up by episode four, but a combination of uninspired dialogue and Hollyoaks acting makes getting even that far a slog. It’s hard to believe there’s much of anything going on behind her eyes. Or his.