James Stack, BBC

Inside No 9 – Mother’s Ruin

For many TV watchers (and certainly me over the years, as a wealth of previous blogs will attest), the return of Inside No 9 is very exciting news indeed. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s anthology series has continued to prove hilarious, horrifying and even touching, bringing in top actors who do top work – and now we know that the show is coming to an end, we have to appreciate the remaining two series while we’ve got them. Series eight began at Christmas with a haunting church-bound tale, but we’re going full force now with ‘Mother’s Ruin’, a lively and twisty story that delivers a lot of shocks. Read on, but be warned – there’s trouble afoot.

the episode also draws on the kind of violence that characterises both horror and gangster films

In a quiet suburban area, Edward (Shearsmith) is breaking into what he discovers to be an empty bungalow. Once his brother Harry (Pemberton) arrives, their interest in the house is made clear – it was owned by their mother, and it’s the place that she died. The two are the children of well-known East End villains Harry and Annie Blackwood, who did some awful things when they were alive and carried a big secret with them to the grave. Edward is particularly keen to learn the truth, and he’s brought his brother along on a quest to discover it – but when things take a turn for the worst and Frances and Reggie (Anita Dobson and Phil Daniels) arrive on the scene, what will happen to the siblings?

One of the show’s strengths is the way that it bounces between genres and different story tropes, and ‘Mother’s Ruin’ is a great example of that. What initially seems to be set up as a more horror-inspired tale also brings in the underlying gangster conventions, and the mix works incredibly well. There are scenes here that are genuinely quite tense, and the humour is dark but still laugh-out-loud funny for the most part (although the frequent confusion over Cockney rhyming slang didn’t land for me). There are a lot of throwaway gags that work, particularly Harry’s innocence being at odds with the increasingly dangerous situation, but the episode also draws on the kind of violence that characterises both horror and gangster films, resulting in one of the goriest moments to date – that it juggles both without either feeling unnatural is a testament to the writers.

it was slightly disappointing how predictable many of the plot beats were

 A key reason that ‘Mother’s Ruin’ succeeds is down to the acting. Shearsmith and Pemberton make for unlikely brothers, and although they’re largely playing to their usual types, their long-established friendship gave the duo a lot of hidden depth (Shearsmith also pulls out an incredible moment at the end – truly top performing – in a way that’ll get under your skin). Dobson and Daniels are effectively also in their comfort zone, but that suits this episode to the ground. Daniels is a terrifying presence here, alternating between unpleasant and out-and-out nasty – he’s clearly enjoying the extreme swings between the comedy and the violence, and his acting even makes some of the goriest moments darkly amusing.

On a personal level, it was slightly disappointing how predictable many of the plot beats were – it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the episode, such was the strength of the performances, but I never felt that satisfying feeling of surprise that comes with the best Inside No 9s. A whole world is generated through a few words, and I had a real sense of Harry, Annie and their entire criminal enterprise – the nuggets there are golden. But the lines that set up what was to come were clunkier than usual, especially if I was able to pick up on them. However, I must profess to really enjoying the ambiguity of the ending, as this was a case where leaving that lingering question really strengthened what had come before.

‘Mother’s Ruin’ is a fine start to the new series of Inside No 9, showing that the writing team still have lots of ideas in the toolkit and can craft compelling stories that rise above most of what’s on the box. If not an essential episode due to an upsetting predictability, it is still a great watch due to the performance of its small cast and the way it successfully meshes two genres into something unique.


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