Acorn TV's 'The Drowning' is a Melodramatic Wash-Out

Mark (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Jodie (Jill Halfpenny). Credit: AMC Networks.
Mark (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Jodie (Jill Halfpenny). Credit: AMC Networks.

The Drowning is a four-part drama currently available on AcornTV and Sundance Now. It originally aired on BBC’s Channel 5 and its cast is full of familiar faces, including Jill Halfpenny and Rupert Penry-Jones.

Written by Tim Dynevor, Francesca Brill, and Luke Watson, and directed by Carolina Giammetta, it has the promise and pedigree of a competent, watchable series. But The Drowning is entirely too derivative of both The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the dysfunctional family, the missing child) or The Missing without the emotional punch of either. Halfpenny’s intense performance as Jodie will keep you watching, while you alternately smack or shake your head, and resign yourself to the next plot hole or bit of silliness. And there are a lot of them.

Jodie is a woman who’s suffered a tragedy in her life - on a family picnic to a lake, her four-year-old son Tom disappears. She and her family are devastated, the police do their best, including sending divers into the lake, but Tom is never found. Jodie and her husband Ben (Dara Devaney) divorce and he marries her former best friend Kate (Deirdre Mullins).

Nine years later, it seems that Jodie is getting her life together. She has a landscaping business, and she’s on her way to a pitch meeting with a potential customer when she sees a group of schoolchildren. Among them is a boy carrying a guitar who she is convinced is her missing son and even has a similar scar on his face. She parks the car, follows the kids onto a bus, and then follows them to the school entrance. She can’t convince her ex that she’s found Tom so she goes to the police. They don’t hold out much hope, so it’s back to the stalking. She learns the boy’s name is Daniel (Cody Molko) and follows him to find out where he and his widowed architect father Mark (Penry-Jones) live.

And then—by an extraordinary coincidence—she just happens to discover that the school is looking to hire a music teacher. Naturally, she applies for the job, and despite the skepticism of the principal’s assistant Miss Towne (Roisin O’Neill), manages to persuade the principal Mr. McKenzie (Conor Mullen) to hire her, despite having no qualifications or experience. All she needs now is the paperwork to prove her squeaky-clean background. And possibly some musical skills because we never once see her pick up an instrument, although that really doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Jodie (Jill Halfpenny) and Yasmin (Jade Anouka). Credit: AMC Networks.
Jodie (Jill Halfpenny) and Yasmin (Jade Anouka). Credit: AMC Networks.

Ade (Babs Olusanmokun), one of her work crew, is an illegal immigrant who has contacts for forging paperwork and offers to help out. He introduces her to a delightfully cliched collection of Russian villains who ostensibly sell used tires. Her business partner Yasmin (Jade Anouka), is annoyed with her now she’s running around stalking schoolboys instead of hustling for the next contract, and despite the fact that they are friends, Jodie shamelessly exploits her and the business.

Jodie returns to the school to drop off her security clearance and gets into trouble immediately by discovering Daniel playing his guitar, putting up posters about a music club, and allowing students to call her by her first name. And she isn’t even officially teaching yet. Miss Towne is very suspicious.

Jodie’s family are as damaged as she is and she's been estranged from them for some time. Jodie’s ex and his current wife, formerly her best friend, are still part of the charmed circle. Her mother Lynn (Deborah Findlay) is besotted with her son Jason (Jonas Armstrong), an ambitious lawyer. Mum tends to rattle on about how lovely it is to have all the family together, although they have come to resent Jodie for always being the center of attention.

As you’re probably thinking, and as several characters point out throughout the series, what were they all really doing when Tom disappeared? Why didn’t they notice he was missing? Why didn’t the police try harder to find the unidentified couple who were also at the lake? Since there are few surprises I don’t feel too bad in letting you know that they were wandering aimlessly, spilling wine, swatting off wasps, and sneaking off to the woods for a quickie (Ben and Kate).

Jodie, obsessed by her theory that her son is alive, continues to neglect her business, upset Yasmin, and insinuate her way into Daniel’s life by offering free private music lessons. His father doesn’t want his son to spend too much time on music, although he’s somewhat interested in Jodie, having heard his son talk about the cool new music teacher. She turns up at their house, uninvited, to give him a lesson, and while Mark is out on an errand, snoops around. There are no baby pictures of Daniel!  Proof! Mark catches her and turns her out of the house, but not before she’s given Daniel her phone which has a practice app on it.

Jodie finds that the Russians want another £500 for Ade’s papers and they want it now. She’s broke, so she transfers it from the business account and then brother Jason turns up to take her to a delightful family dinner where they’ll celebrate Tom’s birthday. Jason has drawn up a Declaration of Presumed Death to bring closure to the family, but Jodie, hot on the trail of the boy she thinks is her son, rejects it.

She’s also in trouble with the school again, having been discovered putting a phone into Daniel’s locker (I know, I’m confused too). Daniel tells her that his father is pulling him out of the school the next day to go on a trip, making an early start on the half-term holiday. He has a soccer match that day which Mark comes to watch, while Jodie drives to his office and throws a brick through a window, setting off the alarm. He rushes off to investigate and Jodie, returning to the game, is the only one there to rescue Daniel when he receives a minor injury and take him home. There she gets to play mom, providing first aid and dinner, and of course, doing some more snooping and taking Daniel’s toothbrush for a DNA test.

Mark is not at all pleased to find Jodie in his house again, but is impressed that she’s arranged a recording session for Daniel and some of the other kids at her ex-husband’s studio. The worst school principal in the world, who is about to suspend her, backs down when she reminds him that this extra-curricular activity will almost certainly put the school in the running for a prestigious award. Yes, really.

Mark (Rupert Penry-Jones). Credit: AMC Networks.
Mark (Rupert Penry-Jones)--architect of evil?  Credit: AMC Networks.

And poor Ade, who wasn’t able to pay the Bad Russians, because Jodie didn’t hit the ATMs in time, gets beaten up.

Daniel is bonding with Jodie and begins to ask his father leading questions about his mother, but Mark refuses to answer. Daniel searches Jodie online, finds the story about her missing child, and boom, runs away to Jodie’s house. While he’s there, the police come round to tell Jodie they’re dropping the investigation because there is no more proof. Daniel, hiding upstairs, comes across Tom’s bedroom, enshrined for nine years, and becomes convinced he’s Jodie’s son. She plans to run away to Europe with him, but he’ll need a passport, so it’s back to the Bad Russians.

Daniel goes back to his father’s house to say goodbye, not the smartest thing to do at this point because Mark is rightly all riled up about Jodie who still hasn’t been fired or arrested. Mark invites Jodie to come to see Daniel and drives her to one of his houses under construction. We learn that Daniel’s mother committed suicide, so Mark has decided the best course of action is to keep it a big secret. Daniel isn’t there, of course, and Jodie hits Mark to escape and steals his car. She calls big brother Jason, who has recently become a QC, for help.

Naturally, the Bad Russians want to charge more than their stated price for the passport (this is the way they do business), so Jodie offers them the car. Then she takes money out of the business account and takes the company van to drive herself and Daniel to the coast. (Incidentally,  another puzzling feature of the series is that it’s meant to take place in England, but it doesn’t look right, and that’s because it’s filmed in Ireland. I hope that Jodie's ugly tartan coat, which she wears in almost every scene, is not product placement for the Irish textile industry.)

Predictably, Daniel’s forged passport fails. But then we enter into a maelstrom of DNA tests, faked or otherwise, engineered by Jason the lawyer, who has his own reasons for Daniel to be Tom. And I think you can guess what they are, because  Jason is up to no good, claiming he's trying to protect his sister from imprisonment. Naturally there a ridiculous monologue explaining what he did and why he did it, because otherwise his career would have been ruined.

Jason (Jonas Armstrong). Credit: AMC Networks.
Jason (Jonas Armstrong). Credit: AMC Networks.

Frankly, it’s exhausting. In the final scene, when the family gathers (including Daniel’s dad Mark, now released from prison, and Jodie who should have been locked up three episodes ago) to throw a memorial wreath of sunflowers into the lake, I too wished I could gently sink into oblivion and forget this series.

The water, by the way, is very clear, and we know the police sent in divers, thus raising the threat of a possible second season. Perhaps Tom didn’t drown, perhaps … No, spare us. Please. No more.

Have you watched The Drowning? What did you think?