The Kindness of Strangers (2006)


UK. 2006.


Director – Tony Smith, Teleplay – Kate O’Riordan, Producer – Shefali Malhoutra, Photography – Julian Court, Music – Sarah Class, Special Effects Supervisor – Jeremy King, Production Design – Iain Andrews. Production Company – Granada


Julie Graham (Ellie Farrelly), Hermione Norris (Fiona Charters), Neil Pearson (Joe Farrelly), Sean Verey (Alex Farrelly), Gillian Hanna (Hannah), Kate Murphy (Dr Sarah), Graham Padden (Psychiatrist)


Joe and Ellie Farrelly run a construction firm in London and have a teenage son Alex. Ellie becomes pregnant and gives birth to twin girls. After the birth, Ellie struggles to cope with the girls and this puts great strain on the marriage, with she seeing Joe as being inattentive to her distress. At a mall cafe, she meets Fiona Charters who offers to help. The two become best friends. Fiona proves an enormous help with the children and gives Ellie some pills to deal with the stress. Joe is impressed enough to offer Fiona a job at work, the same one that Ellie used to do. Ellie starts to believe that Fiona is pushing her way into the household and trying to steal Joe away from her. Fiona appears to do a number of things – including turning up for parties that she claims Ellie organised or telling Ellie to pick up her car from the garage when the brakes have not been repaired, causing her to crash and then denying it – that make it seem like Ellie is losing it. Ellie snaps and barricades herself in the house. She has to be taken away by police and is placed in a psychiatric institution. There she calms down and makes a concerted effort to get well. Released, she determines to fight back and reclaim her marriage by turning Fiona’s tactics back against her.

The Kindness of Strangers is a British tv mini-series psycho-thriller. The show falls into the vein of sinister strangers overturning a placid family household thrillers that was all the rage following Fatal Attraction (1987). There are good many similarities between The Kindness of Strangers and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), a thriller about a psychopathic babysitter inveigling her way in and turning a family home upside down, and to a lesser extent The Stepfather (1987) about a man who obsessively desires to adopt other families as his own. Although in being written by a woman, Irish novelist Kate O’Riordan, The Kindness of Strangers is much more of a Chick Flick psycho-thriller than all of these – the opening scenes very credibly depict the stress a woman faces caused by the arrival of two new babies and a possibly inattentive husband, all leading to spiralling post-natal depression.

The story cycles through many of the cliches familiar to Fatal Attraction and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. You can see all the plot devices being wheeled into place and where everything is heading in advance. (Although The Kindness of Strangers does at least contravene cliche enough to not kill the evil calculating woman off at the end, as it seemed eminently about to do). Despite its familiarity, one enjoyed The Kindness of Strangers. Particularly good are the scenes during the first half with Hermione Norris’s inveigling her way into the household. This is conducted with enormous subtlety – everything lies in the delicacy of nuance, the way that Hermione Norris’s smile just doesn’t quite sit convincingly, the hint of an attraction between her and Neil Pearson – yet also sits with an ambiguity that could just as easily be open to misinterpretation. Things mount well in Part 2 where we see the two women trying to outsmart one another – where Hermione Norris responds to Julie Graham breaking into her flat by trashing the flat and trying to tell Neil Pearson that this is further evidence of Julie’s madness; or the scenes where the truth is twisted so that everybody thinks everybody else is having an affair.

The Kindness of Strangers also has an excellent set of performances. I had not seen any of Julie Graham’s work before but she is enormously convincing. She gets to let all stops out and go gloriously mad at the end of Part 1. By the time of Part 2, we watch her determined to fake their way back to sanity. Hermione Norris does well with the friendly smiles and coolly controlled responses, while also getting to lose her marbles memorably in Part 2.

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