Empire (UK) - - The Watch List - Jenna Cole­man, Ewen Les­lie, Stella Gonet

IN THE OPEN­ING scene of this four-part psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, Jenna Cole­man’s pro­tag­o­nist Joanna is get­ting ready to face the me­dia hordes camped out­side her house. We have no idea why she’s the ob­ject of so much at­ten­tion, and even more in­trigu­ingly, why her jour­ney from the front door to a wait­ing car is in­ter­cut with flash­backs to other sim­i­lar en­trances into the lion’s den. The rea­sons for Joanna’s in­famy re­main vague through­out the first episode which works as an masterclass in jig­saw-puz­zle sto­ry­telling. At a time in TV drama when gra­tu­itously jit­tery time­line-hop­ping is all the rage, from West­world’s myr­iad time pe­ri­ods, to the flash­backs within flash­backs in Sharp Ob­jects, this Bri­tish se­ries at­tempts an even more splin­tered nar­ra­tive. This con­stant, nervy flit­ting back and forth from past to present is a highly ef­fec­tive way of re­flect­ing the pro­tag­o­nist’s frac­tured psy­che, while also hav­ing a pow­er­fully dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing ef­fect on the viewer. You need to con­cen­trate, be­cause the chronol­ogy of events is kept de­lib­er­ately elu­sive. We see Joanna and her hus­band (Ewen Les­lie) trav­el­ling with their baby on a painfully tense flight to Aus­tralia. We get glimpses of his Aus­tralian ex-wife, and awk­ward ex­changes about cus­tody of their daugh­ter. Mostly, we’re cap­ti­vated by Cole­man, show­ing us Joanna’s in­tense emo­tional pain with the most sub­tle of re­ac­tion shots, while ev­ery­thing Les­lie does rings en­tirely true as well. It’s a del­i­cate, fas­ci­nat­ing mo­saic. BH

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