Mare Of Easttown
- Brian Donaldson
- 19 April 2021
Kate Winslet excels in a detective drama that swats aside cliché and promotes subtlety and realism
Once upon a TV time, Channel 4 was the leading light for grim dramas. With Brookside, it created the first British soap to properly tackle the harsher side of life while the mini-series likes of Traffik, Kid In The Corner and Never Never had most of its viewers crying into their soup. With the broadcaster filling up an oversized chunk of its schedules with programmes about food, dogs, food, property, and food, the misery mantle appears to have been taken by Sky Atlantic. During lockdown alone, its audience tried to forget about their troubles by concentrating on the deep, dark woes of others in Zero Zero Zero, I Know This Much Is True, Your Honor, Gangs Of London, and The Third Day. The latest of that ilk is Mare Of Easttown, with its all-too real story of a murder-mystery within a small town community in modern-day Pennsylvania.
Kate Winslet is Mare Sheehan, a detective we first meet being woken up to attend a possible prowler incident before she goes shopping for a tank to house a baby turtle. In another part of town, a feud is gently simmering between a young single mother and the father of their baby, while the community is gently anticipating a public event to celebrate their old basketball team of which Sheehan was a crucial part back in her day. In other dramas, we'd have immediately been shown the major crime that arrives much later in the episode before flashing back to 'the previous day', but it's clear almost immediately that Mare Of Easttown is not like other dramas. Paced gently with the emphasis heavily on characters, adrenaline junkies might well switch off before the first ad break or when our hero sprains her ankle in pursuit of a felon: whichever comes earliest.
There will be some who are likely to baulk at yet another TV cop with a flawed private life, but here the professional and personal merge and weave into the central plot rather than a domestic crisis being tacked on to simply show how life can pull people in different directions. Sheehan's deep-seated grief is a motivating factor in her attempt to be good police (as they'd say in The Wire) as well as a more fully functioning human: it's fair to say that she is more adept at the former.
In one interview to publicise the show, Winslet insisted that Mare Sheehan was her 'most challenging part' to date. The fact that she makes it look very easy is a tribute to the actress herself as well as to the other performers around her, all of whom are operating with a script that prioritises reality and subtlety over pushing the obvious buttons beloved of many contemporary crime dramas.
Sky Atlantic, Monday 19 April, 9pm; episode one available now on NOW TV.