Our ability to read people is based so much on learned interpretations of the smallest facial twitches. A smile does not always mean a smile, and the eyes can convey so much. It is clear very early on in Netflix’s newest thriller Behind Her Eyes that something is very wrong with central character Adele. Clearly not short of a few quid and married to handsome psychologist David, she appears to have it all. Yet those eyes hold your gaze just a moment too long, and that smile isn’t adding up…
Behind Her Eyes is adapted from a self-confessed ‘Marmite’ (love it or hate it) book by Sarah Pinborough. This limited series by Netflix is a glossy affair, featuring magnetic performances from Eve Hewson (as the aforementioned Adele) and Simona Brown. Part psychological drama, part saucy love triangle, and part mystery thriller, it is easy to see why flurries of people on social media have been chattering about it.
Brown, as single mother Louise, carries the emotional heart of the show. A woman still bitter over being dumped by her ex-husband and feeling listless existing just in mother mode, she enjoys a flirtatious encounter with a mystery Scottish man at a bar (Tom Bateman), only to discover the next day they he is her new boss. Not only that, but the woman who stumbled into her in the street and tried to make friends is his wife. Sworn to secrecy from the latter and yet continuing an affair with the former, she finds herself stuck between what she wants and sympathy for the lonely Adele.
Behind Her Eyes toys with you for much of the first half. Through Hewson’s superb performance we can see that even though on the face of it David is emotionally and financially abusive towards Adele, there is some flicker of machinations beneath that Stepford Wife exterior. He appears to be in genuine fear of her, but why? A series of flashbacks showing Adele’s time at a mental health institution and her burgeoning friendship with a young gay man called Rob slowly fill in her backstory, with David mostly absent except by name.
I, for one, love Marmite, and I found Behind Her Eyes to be a compelling “what’s going on then?!” of a show where the slow unravelling of layers kept my interest hooked. The affair scenes are suitably steamy and the conflict in David’s behaviour keeps you guessing. A couple of very suspicious choices of camera angle imply that something mysterious is going on and then….the last two episodes take what is known in the business (at least to me) as ‘A Turn’.
No spoilers, but some small hints dropped throughout the series suddenly get fleshed out as a new piece of information comes into play. Now, I have seen many shows that use said piece of information and once this becomes ‘Known’ there is only really one of two ways the show can go, depending on what tone the drama is hurtling towards at the finish line. You may get the ending you want out of this 50/50. I didn’t. Especially as a big reveal is held back until the last 10 minutes which will slap you if you don’t see it coming, but be irritating if you did a full episode earlier.
Behind Her Eyes is compact enough that you can spend a week making it your new favourite thing should it grip you. The ending may divide people but putting aside Plot with a capital P, the central performances of Hewson’s enigmatic behaviour and Brown’s relatable struggles are top notch.
Brown in particular is stellar here. She can be petulant in the face of some deserved pleasure. She can be selfless in her concern for others. She can stand powerful and tall and yet crumple at the same time. Through her performance, you will want things to go her way throughout, even as she makes bad choices. Behind Her Eyes may sell itself on the mysteries going on under our daily masks, but Brown’s heart on her sleeve is what will break through the façade.
Words by Michael Record