TV Review: Compulsion

Anna Chancellor and Leanne Best lead the cast of the surprisingly effective Channel 5 thriller Compulsion

“I feel like she’s leaving me a trail of breadcrumbs”

I wouldn’t normally turn to Channel 5 for drama but they’ve been making an effort to recruit some proper talent and where Anna Chancellor goes, of course I follow. And Sarah Deane’s Compulsion actually emerges as a decent drama, gathering a decent cast and giving them a twisty thriller that neatly combines the odd outlandish contrivance with a grittily disturbing rooting in too-real issues.

Leanne Best plays Jenny, a paramedic dealing with PTSD after being a passenger in a fatal train crash. With the support of her husband and daughter and her therapist, she’s just about ready to return to work but she’s hiding a massive secret, a crippling addiction to online gambling. So with debt collectors fast losing their patience, the arrival of Anna Chancellor’s Sasha as a good Samaritan is a godsend…or is it?     

I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that there’s more to Sasha than meets the eye but where Compulsion really does a good job is making you forget this as Jenny allows herself to be taken down the rabbit-hole of darkening conspiracies. Sasha starts to turn her against her husband Chris (Danny Ashok) and best friend Ali (Krissi Bohn) and is able to manipulate her into making questionable decisions about her finances and you can see how.

Best has the trickier job of keeping us onside with the increasingly irrational Jenny but ensures there’s a throughline of empathy there and Chancellor is really very good as you’d expect as the cuckoo in the nest friend whose agenda remains opaque for just long enough. And in a good supporting cast, there’s cracking work from Hayley Mills as a chilling loan shark who exudes real menace.

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