UK TV review: Cheat
James R | On 17, Mar 2019
Killing Eve fans could do a lot worse than filling that hole with ITV’s new drama, Cheat. The series aired nightly on ITV this week, a sure sign that the broadcaster thinks it’s going to get people hooked – and the four-part thriller doesn’t disappoint, keeping you bingeing all the way through to its dark, twisted end.
Twisted is the key word of the day, as Gaby Hull’s story starts off simple and then contorts itself into something so warped and unexpected that it’s borderline laughable. It’s testament to how well it’s performed, though, that you don’t once giggle, instead quietly clicking on the next episode until you clamber over the next absurd cliffhanger.
Katherine Kelly leads the cast as Leah, a lecturer at Oxford University who suspects that one of her students has plagiarised an essay. The student in question? Rose (Molly Windsor), who doesn’t talk in class, rarely responds to Leah’s questions and hasn’t ever submitted a writing assignment as complex as her latest. But what she does swiftly appear to be an expert in is Leah herself, turning up on her teacher’s doorstep, leaving notes for her in her desk and even getting to know her husband, Adam (Humans’ ever-likeable Tom Goodman-Hill).
As the title begins to take on new possible meanings, the marital strains between Adam and Leah come to the fore – and, with them, the rest of the family drama, including her dad (the always brilliant Peter Firth), who was also an employee of the university back in his day. That gives her an eerie parallel with Rose, whose dad (Ade Edmondson) was also a key university backer once upon a time, and the drama succeeds because it gives both characters time to expand and grow, and wrap themselves around each other. Windsor, who impressed in BBC One’s Three Girls, relishes the chance go full bunny boiler as Rose, and while the script takes her over the edge into illogical insanity one too many times, Windsor anchors her in just enough painful reality to stop things becoming too daft – and Kelly is the ideal ballast as her counterpoint, leaving us unsure which of them is the protagonist to trust.
The show strays near cheating the viewer come the slightly overdone finale, but director Louise Hooper ensures that we don’t have the chance to step back and question the whole thing, barrelling along at a breakneck speed that pauses only for tantalising end credits after each chapter’s increasingly big reveal. An intense, ominous atmosphere pervades throughout, and even if the result is a somewhat silly rollercoaster, you can tell that everyone is enjoying the ride. You will too.
Cheat is available on ITV Hub until 14th April 2019.