TV review: Born to Kill, Channel 4 (4 stars)

TV review: Born to Kill, Channel 4

Disturbing drama about a fledgling psychopath starring Jack Rowan, Romola Garai and Daniel Mays

There's something wrong with Sam (Jack Rowan). On the surface he's a normal kid, part of the school's dive team, befriending a bullied loner on the bus and volunteering at the local hospital to read to the old folk. But who is the real Sam? Is it all a mask, is he just playing a role, pretending to be 'normal'? Sam's a fantasist, barely contained darkness lurking deep in his psyche.

Sam has a confusing relationship with his mum, Jenny (Romola Garai), she's the only constant in his world but their life is built around a huge lie (that could easily unravel at an up-coming parole board meeting). The arrival of a new girl, teenage rebel Chrissy (Laura Peake), further complicates things. Bewitched and infatuated his emotions become even more disordered.

This four-part drama is the first project from new writing partnership Tracey Malone (10 Rillington Place / Silent Witness) and Kate Ashfield (better known as an actress as seen in Line of Duty and Secrets & Lies). It treads similar ground to We Need to Talk About Kevin, using this domestic set up to delve into questions of nature vs nurture. Asking are psychopaths born or bred? Where does evil come from?

Garai and Daniel Mays (as Chrissy's father) are sympathetic as stressed single parents striking up a tentative friendship. Peake sparks with flashes of wit, intelligence and teenage anger. But it's newcomer Rowan who grabs your attention in a tough, challenging role. Bringing a vulnerability and awkwardness to this fledgling sociopath, never overplaying the creep factor.

Born to Kill is a complex disturbing character study, Malone and Ashfield's nuanced script adding a level of humanity to even their darkest creations.

Born to Kill premieres on Channel 4, Thu, 20 Apr.