DARK ANGEL launched on ITV for Halloween - its a dark, shadowy, grim looking Victorian saga about real-life serial killer Mary Ann Cotton.


I tell you something, women had it hard in Victorian England – penniless, scrubbing floors, killing off giant bed bugs with arsenic mixed in with soft soap. It is after moving into new lodgings with husband number one, that Mary Ann Cotton (Joanne Froggatt), the so-called Dark Angel of the title, first gets her hands on some of this odourless poison as she sets about cleaning the filthy mattress she will soon give birth upon.

There’s a bit of a rhythm to this Monday night drama, which is no bad thing, but the pattern of pregnancy, new baby, disillusioned-with-life-so-murder-useless-husband, soon kicks in and fills the majority of this 90-minute episode. Cotton gave birth to thirteen children in her lifetime, eleven of them would end up dead – whether by their mother’s poisoned teapot or the cruel ravages of being poor and living in germ-ridden slums one can only guess, but it did strike me as a little odd that more time was spent mourning the husbands than the many children who must also have suffered the, frankly hideous looking, death.

I’ve got a bit of twisted interest in serial killers, so I’d really looked forward to this one and, you know what, it’s a fine piece of drama. Froggatt was quite wonderful. I’ve always thought her a worker, ever since she turned up as some limp looking thing on Coronation Street, and she works hard here.

Featured in almost every scene and portraying the rather pacey alterations in character, from happy mother and doting wife, to producing a cold, slice-of-a-woman is no easy feat. "You’re my angel", husband number two tells her – watch out mate, husband number one said that before he threw up in, and then kicked, the bucket.

There’s some beautiful shots of the scenery – coastal walks and open air contrasting with the grime of cramped houses. I’m glad this is only a two-part thing; I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with six part episodes where nothing much happens between episodes 2-5. Events move quickly here but it’s engaging and coherent, if a little heavy handed at times.

There’s a tad too much sex, if I’m honest. I’m not sure the real Cotton would’ve had the time for open-air sex with her scruffy looking lover at any given moment of the day but I guess it’s a ratings winner.

If there’s one positive about the dark, frosty nights its decent British dramas and Dark Angel, I’m pleased to say, is one of them. Engaging, shocking and starring Alun Armstrong as Cotton’s father for goodness sake, if you need a reason to watch, surely that’s it. That and the inevitable conclusion of Cotton reaching her grisly end. Luckily before that, there’s a couple more husbands to go. The teapot hasn’t been put to bed quite yet – I look forward to what it brews up in episode 2.


- Aired on ITV1, October 31 2016 at 21:00.