SPOILER ALERT: Contains mild spoilers for ITV’s streamed new series, Deep Water.
The Lake District. England’s Eden. A unique geological casting. Blessed by Mother Nature, immortalised by Wainwright, beloved of Wordsworth. And, if ITV’s latest drama is to be believed, full to the mountain tops with absolute shaggers.
Deep Water is based on two of Paula Daly’s Windermere Novels published in 2013 and 2015. They fell either side of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the TV adaptation of which the media have been quick to compare Deep Water to. Hawkshead replaces Monterey, and lakesides replace the beachfronts, while mothers and wives from different socio-economic backgrounds size each other up in and around the gates of their children’s school. The richer women live in improbably clean and picturesque houses with their improbably clean and picturesque husbands, while the strugglers live in and with units that are a bit shabbier and lower rent. Most importantly, secrets and lies poke into the everyday lives of our Cumbrian maids just as they did for our Californian girls.
The performances of the female leads draw you in almost as much as the lingering establishment shots of glassy meres, swaying trees and the folded hills and mountains. Anna Friel’s Lisa holds her family together through doggo daycare and stretching-out husband Joe’s taxi driving income. Time is short and life is hectic. At one point you expect her to drop a customer’s labradors off at the school while delivering her kids to a kennel somewhere. At a dinner party hosted by the Rivertys — Kate (Rosalind Eleazar) and Guy — Lisa is flattered by the flirtatious advances of Kate’s cosmetic surgeon brother-in-law Adam. Later, while everyone else is passed-out drunk, Lisa and Adam prove how sturdy, and easy to keep clean, marble basin fittings can be. Meanwhile, Sinead Keenan’s Roz, a physiotherapist (Daly’s former profession), is also getting screwed. By her partner’s compulsive gambling habit. With bailiffs knocking and eviction notices pending, married patient Scott offers her an arrangement that would shore up her finances. For some reason, Scott is played by the same actor who also portrays Guy. I think. He then puts on a Scottish accent to be Lisa’s husband Joe and a false beard as Roz’s ne’er-do-well partner Winston. The characters are variously credited with different names but I really think Equity should investigate.
The lives of the women reflect the lakes they live around. Kate carefully jousts with her sister (a spiky Camilla Beeput) as she chases the remains of her relationship with Guy, all placid on the surface while churning underneath. Roz seems like she’s drowning in the trouble that work and money are causing her. Lisa finds herself plunged into a crisis when she forgets to pick up the Riverty’s daughter Lucinda, from school and the child goes missing. At this point we sink into an episode of Without A Trace as Detective Sergeant and neighbour Joanne, a wonderfully laconic Faye Marsay, leads the investigation and search. But as a plot device, Lucinda’s disappearance is a feint, and her significance really lies in what she knows about her parents, and Uncle Adam. The Windemere of these families seems rather well-stocked with such red herrings, including the opening scene of an accident (or was it?) between Lisa and Katy’s sons involving some…deep water. Various items and incidents that the protagonists get wound-up about deftly fade into tensions between and around the characters, and it is the ensuing terse silences, sharp words, and both withering and withered looks that tell us what is really going on. These mums and dads (especially the dads) may behave like children, but the viewers are treated like adults, with an enticing gap here and there, left for us to fill in.
The actual children are played with an annoying mix of stage-school competence and cringey dialogue (does no one who writes scripts ever talk to anyone under 18?) except for the brief but memorable interventions of insightful Fergus, the Riverty’s boy, who unsettles his peers and their parents alike.
By stitching together two complementary novels, Deep Water has made efficient use of its source material. Yet the two psychological storylines have been squeezed to the point where the plot drives characters rather than the reverse, and the surrounding cast are one dimensional. The men are either repellently sleazy or pointlessly inoffensive, and the kids are just props. As various indiscretions are admitted to and backstories hinted at, Deep Water reaches a strange anti-climax that suggests a second series is already in development. These six episodes just about tread the line between soap opera and thriller. A sequel will need to dilute its characters less and concentrate its plots a little more.
Deep Water started on 14 August on ITV and is available to stream in full from the ITV Hub.