Cheat subverts expectations high and low with a compelling blend of clues and smokescreens, as its cleverly plotted mystery slowly unfurls before our eyes.
This review of ITV’s Cheat is spoiler free. Now the series has concluded, you can check out our spoilerific recaps of each episode by clicking these words.
It’s always good news when a thriller film or series doesn’t swindle its audience out of a haunting, farce-free conclusion. You’d be surprised by how many do just that, leaving their viewers cold and addled by questions.
ITV’s Cheat is one of the good’uns, a tense thriller that smolders gradually towards a persuasive, understated climax. It isn’t showy or explosive, but rather good, old-fashioned storytelling that wraps up events in a nice, neat package.
It’s modern day, and we’re somewhere that looks a lot like Cambridge University – although that’s never stated explicitly. Likable, ambitious lecturer Leah (Katherine Kelly) finds herself in a flawed marriage with weak-willed, irritating Adam (Tom Goodman-Hill). When she fails beautiful student Rose (Molly Windsor) for cheating, the intensely blue-eyed psychopath pursues a spiteful vendetta against her lecturer. This sets in motion a dangerous game of one-upmanship, proving destructive for everyone and fatal for someone (as well as ill-fated cat Betsy and maybe, just maybe, Hunter the dog).
It all begins in the future, with Leah and Rose divided by the reinforced glass of a prison visitation room. We know that one is locked up, but we can’t distinguish between prisoner and visitor. What we do know is they have “a lot to talk about,” but the truth is carefully masked until we return to them near the finale.
As we lead to this point, this four-part mini-series subverts expectations high and low with a compelling blend of clues and smokescreens, as its cleverly plotted mystery slowly unfurls before our eyes. Two women. One death. One prison sentence. Whodunit?
Gaby Hull’s aptly named Cheat has the hallmarks of a gripping yarn, from the duly suspicious protagonist to her skeptical, adulterous husband, and from the deceptively cunning adversary to the frustratingly misguided police detectives. With help from director Louise Hooper, the writer makes sure it’s all there, serving a broiling, creeping tale of lies, manipulation, and murder, told almost entirely from the female perspective.
Kelly has come a long way since her Corrie days as loud-mouthed Becky McDonald, proving herself to be an impressively capable and versatile actress. That said, it would have been nice to see a touch more in the way of Leah’s exasperation.
Windsor (of Three Girls fame) steals the show, utterly watchable as a scheming manipulator of Machiavellian proportions. She offers a layered performance as Rose’s volatility becomes painfully apparent to those she doesn’t have wrapped around her little finger. Possibly the new Jodie Comer (Doctor Foster and Killing Eve), we’re going to see a lot more of this girl very soon.
While the finale doesn’t hold anything back, the door is technically left open for a sequel. Sadly, an ITV spokesperson told The Sun, “Cheat was conceived as a self-contained four-part drama. There’s been no talk of another season as it was only ever planned as a standalone series.” Let’s simply hope this a bluff as good as those written into the plot. If not, it was a real pleasure Cheat – thanks for the ride.
Steven is a Scottish freelance Film & TV Journalist based in London. He earned a BA in Journalism from Edinburgh Napier University before moving onto ghost-and content-writing. Steven now covers Film & TV for various websites.