TV dramas have to grab our attention right from the off these days. BBC1’S mega-hit Bodyguard is a classic example. Its opening 20-minute set-piece was a mini-masterpiece of tension. Now Strangers, ITV’S contemporary flagship drama for autumn, has arrived, and while the first act doesn’t quite have the propulsive brilliance of that Bodyguard sequence, it’s certainly sufficiently attention-grabbing. In the first few minutes, we meet husband Jonah (John Simm) and wife Megan (Dervla Kirwan). He’s a likeable college professor trying to keep his students interested. She’s thousands of miles away in Hong Kong, where she works, driving in a state of obvious distress, while in the middle of leaving him an important voice message. In the blink of an eye, another vehicle smashes into hers and she’s dead.
This isn’t a spoiler, it’s the initial premise of the story. Distraught Jonah has to overcome his fear of flying to visit Hong Kong for the first time and deal with the aftermath of his wife’s death. So far, so intriguing. What really snared me, though, is what happens once he’s told by the suspiciously brusque police about the circumstances of Megan’s death. (And this is a spoiler if you haven’t yet watched episode one.) Turns out she has another husband and family in Hong Kong. Husband One’s meeting with Husband Two (Anthony Wong) is a triumph of dramatic awkwardness, due in no small measure to the unshowy naturalism of the superb Simm. With its clear intimations of a bigger conspiracy, intriguing contrast between the late Megan’s two lives, and the atmospheric neon-lit setting, I am fully hooked.