Television loves to pull apart Infidelity.
In The Affair we see it from the inside, as Dominic West embarks on a lustful, uncontrollable desire for Ruth Wilson. In The Beautiful Lie unbridled passion is depicted as true love before giving way to deep consequence.
In Doctor Foster, the same betrayal is seen from the innocent party as Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones) suspects her husband Simon Foster (Bertie Carvel) of seeing another woman.
Gemma is well regarded in her local town, as a GP at Parminster Medical Practice, while Simon is a successful real estate developer. They both have a young son, Tom (Tom Taylor) and life is harmonious, complete with a healthy sex life.
But one day Gemma discovers a telltale blonde hair on her husband’s scarf. With such striking visual precision, instantly we know he’s having an affair. Whilst trying maintain some outward calm, inside Gemma’s world is unravelling. Has he been lying to her? For how long? And who with?
Rather than confront her cheating husband, Gemma meticulously gathers the information before making her next move.
Online she reads a quote from William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride: “Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned. Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.” You can see where this is headed.
The revelation brings out the worst in Gemma. Does she try to read his phone? Should she follow him in her car to see where he is going? Snoop around his office desk?
For his part, Simon continues his apparent charade, at a dinner party recalling with affection the moment he proposed to her. Gemma keeps her secret from him, but begins to view her husband as an outsider looking in.
Meanwhile Gemma forces senior doctor Jack Reynolds (Robert Pugh) to retire due to is alcoholism in what will be a series arc and the voice of experience in this unsettling world. But she will also compromise her own position by asking a patient to play a role in her detective work. This puts huge moral questions into the drama that ramp up the conflict. How can Gemma take the high moral ground when she is crossing all kinds of ethical lines in the sand?
Even a line of dialogue, “In this town people take me at my word,” becomes a threat.
Suranne Jones, best known for her work in Scott and Bailey, is given plenty to work with as the compromised wife expected to maintain respectability. Gemma veers from bottling her emotions to rash displays of vengeance. Mike Bartlett’s (The Town) script allows for introspective moments where we sympathise with the victim, whilst plotting the downfall of the villain. It cleverly inserts new pieces of information across its 5 episodes that move it beyond mere melodrama.
It’s not hard to see why this was a big hit in the UK. If you’re waiting for more Happy Valley,another strong female lead in a well-constructed drama, Doctor Foster may just do the trick.
Doctor Foster premieres 8:30pm Tuesday on BBC First.