UK TV review: The Secrets She Keeps
Ivan Radford | On 07, Jul 2020
“The value of a secret depends upon whom you’re trying to keep it from,” says someone partway through The Secrets That She Keeps, a show that’s bursting at the seams with secrets – although it doesn’t always do a very good at keeping them.
The Australian thriller, adapted from Michael Rowbotham‘s novel, is inspired by a real life hospital incident from the 1990s. Over the years, it’s been embellished and transformed into something far more audacious and implausible, but – it goes without saying – something more entertaining too.
The series introduces us to the self-absorbed influencer Meghan (Jessica de Gouw), who is married to Jack (Michael Dorman) and pregnant with her third child. She crosses paths with Agatha (Laura Carmichael), a shop assistant who is also pregnant and excitedly reveals that she will give birth at the same time as her. That’s the only thing they have in common, as the pair come from different sections of society, one in a middle-class, self-absorbed bubble, the other in a dirty flat with a far-flung sailor as her baby’s father.
That one might want the other one’s life is no surprise, and Agatha’s behaviour graduates from eager new friend to darker territory. And so the scene is set for a relationship that’s more disturbing than sweet, blurring the lines between envy and appropriation, identity and imitation, all filtered through the moral lens of parenthood.
Sarah Walker and Jonathan Gavin’s script makes the smart move of bringing us into the story via Agatha, and Laura Carmichael’s performance is superb, digging deep into the sadness, frustration and loneliness of a woman who, understandably, sees Meghan’s life as a glossy ideal. Jessica de Gouw is just as good, bringing an unthinking arrogance to her privileged life, but also a vulnerability – inevitably, life for her is more complex than Instagram filters would have you believe, and she’s got secrets of her own that she’ll go to extremes to keep.
The picture is muddied further by the tragic back-story that haunts Agatha, who would do anything to draw her sailor baby-dada back to be with her – and the complex dynamics involving Jack’s chiselled friend, Simon, who is a godfather to one of their children and knows a little too much about Megan’s private life. It’s not hard to guess where all these ties lead, and the show’s only flaw is that its tangled web of messy lives and equally messy lies never truly surprises; for a thriller that’s rooted in secrets, these one have a habit of slipping out unintentionally before they’re revealed.
But if there’s a predictability to events, that’s partly because the series knows exactly what furrow it’s ploughing, and it does so with just the right balance of potboiler absurdity and sympathy-tugging twists – anchored by Carmichael’s presence, you almost find yourself rooting for Agatha, even as she takes increasingly questionable steps. That others go along with her is slightly less believable, but there are plenty of gasp-inducing set pieces along the way that you do buy into, from one train station confrontation to a nail-biting moment outside a church. If the value of a secret depends on who you’re trying to keep it from, this easily binge-able show loses points for not setting its own bar higher, but even if you see what’s coming, you’ll still devour all six episodes anyway. An entertaining page-turner that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The Secrets That She Keeps is available on BBC iPlayer until June 2021.