The Woman in the Wall, BBC One, review: Ruth Wilson and a wild take on the Magdalene laundries

Kilkinure, boasts the roly-poly sergeant (Simon Delaney), “is a very boring town. I’m proud of that. It’s my job to make sure things don’t get interesting.” Not many writers can make this forthright blend of Grand Guignol and quipping levity come off. Shakespeare? Martin McDonagh? 

Joe Murtagh, whose script this is, does not trade in subtleties. On the one hand there are penis jokes, vagina jokes, boyband jokes. On the other, diabolic imagery is supplied in spades: Lorna wielding an infernal blowtorch, Lorna wearing a horned headband; also, Lorna stabbing a woman (or is it a life-size effigy or a perhaps a phantasm?) and sealing up the evidence behind the wall. 

The Magdalene laundries have been tackled by dramatists before: with grim realism by Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters 20 years ago for the BBC, more lightly by Philomena starring Judi Dench. The Woman in the Wall throws a whole load of stuff at the wall to see what sticks. The murder prompts a visit from a detective (Daryl McCormack), though this crazy mystery thriller with k–b gags feels far from a conventional procedural. 

In theory, perhaps, Lorna is so traumatised that she’s almost literally in her own parallel world. In practice, a story with dark howls and silly giggles is tonally all over the shop. At least with Wilson working through a wild colour chart of stares and gurns and shrieks, one thing this series, continuing tonight, won’t be is boring.

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