In what must be a world first, Finding Alice (ITV) premieres in the same week as a programme called Losing Alice on Apple TV+. What a wind-up. Nobody likes to feel unoriginal. You spend all that time picking the perfectly original name for your child – possibly not Alice – then turn up at nursery to discover another parent has had the same idea.
Except it wasn’t an original title in the first place. IMDb tells us there was a bad 2018 indie of the same name. Before that there was Still Alice, A Town Called Alice, Alice in Wonderland etc etc.
Anyway, ITV’s six-part drama reunites Keeley Hawes with the writer Simon Nye after their collaboration on The Durrells, a series that has somehow run for four series. Hawes plays Alice Dillon, whose life disintegrates after the shock death of her husband, Harry (Jason Merrells). With their teenage daughter, Charlotte (Isabella Pappas), they’ve just moved into their new home, designed by him, a Grand Designs nightmare of concrete and gadgets where nobody can find the fridge or work out how to flush the loo.
Alice is brushing her teeth, Harry goes downstairs and woomph, dead. Perhaps they should have had bannisters on the stairs. By all appearances, he was a solid guy – rich, respected, creative – but over the next six hours we’ll learn he wasn’t all he seemed. His death causes a pile-up of debts, mystery colleagues and family secrets, one after the other.
On the basis of this first episode, it’s difficult to know what to make of Finding Alice, because it doesn’t seem to know what to make of itself. Although it’s billed as a drama and follows many of the conventions of the bereavement form – alcohol, sad string music, suspicious policemen – there are so many gags that it verges on not just comedy but farce. The running joke about the non-functioning “smart” house grows old after 30 seconds but comes up again and again regardless, as if trying to tunnel through to the other side.
Alice seems distraught about the death of her husband one minute, but then has to contend with near-pantomime moments the next. Her parents Roger and Sarah, played by Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley, arrive out of the blue, blue-bloods in contrast to Harry’s parents, Minnie (Gemma Jones) and Gerry (Kenneth Cranham). A mix-up in the morgue leads Alice to inspect the wrong body but introduces her to a kind assistant, Nathan (Rhashan Stone).
This script stretches even Hawes’s versatility. She’s required to quick-switch between distressed, wry, exasperated, shocked, warm, baffled and angry. Pappas has an easier time of it, as Charlotte’s role is a more straightforward voice of reason amid the cascading revelations. The senior roles are mostly one-note, and don’t give the actors much chance, charming as it always is to see Lumley.
It seems likely that Alice will eventually find herself, or something like it, although who knows: maybe her name isn’t Alice. Less clear is whether Finding Alice will find itself.