The Stranger (Netflix)

OK, OK, I am a year late to the party, but if I am, I suspect you might be too, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out. My partner and I have very different TV viewing habits but just occasionally we find a series we watch together. And that’s what happened with The Stranger, which we’ve watched over the last week. Let’s put it this way. I enjoyed it more than he did. It flagged a bit in episodes 2 and 3 but after that it was knickergripping. And in a good way.

The Stranger is a TV adaptation of Harlan Coben’s nobel of the same name. Sometimes TV adaptations stray very much from the original work and are pale imitations. This one didn’t and isn’t.

The plot revolves around the Price family, a seemingly perfect mother, father and two sons who live in a perfect house in one of the plusher suburbs of Manchester. Adam Price, the father, played by Richard Armitage is a successful lawyer. One day a complete stranger sits down next to him in a bar and tells him his wife had faked her pregnancy and miscarriage. His whole world falls apart and this leads to a series of events which ultimately… well, that would be telling.

The stranger then does the same thing to other characters in the series and tells them of a secret regarding one of their loved ones. The identity of the stranger is only revealed in the penultimate episode.

The star studded cast includes Anthony Head, who plays Adam Price’s errant, and priapic father and Jennifer Saunders who plays – well, I was tempted to say, herself – a café owner who is best friends with the local female detective. This sub-plot is almost as gripping as the main one.

Another sub-plot revolves around a school-age midnight silent disco rave, which ends up with an Alpaca being beheaded and a naked 14 year old boy nearly losing his life. Yes, I know it sounds mad, but again, it was filmed superbly and the teenage acting was superb.

The undoubted star of the series is Richard Armitage. He’s a sort of younger Alastair Campbell in both looks and character. He goes through a gamut of emotions in each episode. It’s raw, it’s compelling and brilliantly acted.

There’s a touch of the Scandis about this series, even down to the opening theme music. Whether that was in the director’s thoughts, I don’t know, but there are some pretty dark moments along the way which wouldn’t have been out of place in The Killing.

And I can give The Stranger no higher compliment than that.


Question Time, BBC1

I tuned in to Question Time on Thursday night for the first time in many weeks. It may be more coherent and less confrontational without a live, in person audience, but there’s something missing. I hear its weekly audience has halved in recent months, and it’s easy to see why. The social distancing between the panellists, several of whom are often not physically present in the studio, leads to a lack of interaction. Panellists speak when they’re spoken to. It’s not easy to interrupt on Zoom.

Some things never change, though, including Fiona Bruce’s reluctance to let a government minister get a sentence out without interrupting them. If Brandon Lewis was irritated, he didn’t let it show and put in a Boycott-esque performance with a straight bat. The Labour representative, Louise Haigh, put on a ‘why, oh why, oh why’ kind of performance without once letting us in on the secret of how Labour would do anything different. Indeed, she couldn’t even say whether she thought Northern Ireland should stay as part of the United Kingdom if there were a cross-border poll, as looks increasingly likely.

I’m fascinated by the relationship between Arlene Foster and the Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill. They look like a French and Saunders sketch. On the surface they look like hardened political opponents, but you’re constantly left wondering if from time to time they kick off their shoes, pour themselves a Pernod and blackcurrent and bemoan who awful their respective parties are to each other, while becoming increasingly pissed. Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

There’s no doubt about it. Covid has castrated Question Time and the sooner the programme recover its lost bollocks the better.