Yorkshire Poldark actress Eleanor Tomlinson on new Channel 4 thriller The Couple Next Door
Evie is racing through the forest in a white nightdress, her red hair tangled, brambles ripping at her hem, frantically glancing over her shoulder every so often at an unknown pursuer.
Lurching snapshots depict Danny and Becka cowering on the ground. Pete bursting on to the scene. A struggle for a gun. Shots ring out.
Cut to the most suburban of streets. Manicured lawns? Check. Rows of identical houses? Check. Glossy ponytails and cheerful children playing in the street? Check.
Channel 4’s dark psychological drama, The Couple Next Door, follows the arrival of new couple Evie and Pete on the block, setting in motion a chain of events that soon escalate and leave no party unscathed.
The narrative centres on the increasingly tangled relationship between the couple and their next door neighbours, Danny and Becka. The quartet sees Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson as Evie and Harry Potter’s Alfred Enoch as Pete, her partner. Outlander’s Sam Heughan plays Danny and The Secrets She Keeps’ Jessica De Gouw is his wife, Becka.
“What we have is a very addictive, sexy, enticing show,” says 31-year-old Tomlinson, who grew up in Beverley, East Yorkshire. “It draws you in and leaves you wanting more. The opening sequence for a start begins with a gunshot and running through woods in incredible distress. And then the next shot is this peaceful, calm suburbia. How on earth does it end up there?
“The four of us together has worked really well. I’m very proud of that dynamic in the show and I think it’s really paid off. It is very different to other stuff that’s out there. Even in terms of the more intimate scenes, they’re shot in a way that’s interesting and hasn’t necessarily been seen or isn’t what you would expect it to be.”
“The situation quite quickly deteriorates from this perfect-looking suburbia. It all implodes,” continues Heughan.
The 43-year-old predicts many “water-cooler moments” as the series progresses. “The audience is probably going to take sides with each character,” he says. “And I think there’ll be many arguments about who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong. And allegiances will change throughout the show as well because I think each character is flawed, and each character is partly to blame for the circumstances that arise.”
As with other psychological dramas set in suburbia – Desperate Housewives and The Stepford Wives are classic examples – beneath the veneer of polished wives and manicured lawns lurk things of a darker nature. Theirs is a suburbia of neighbourly surveillance and ever-watchful eyes, paired with the secrets that slowly unravel each character and the existences they have built around themselves.
“It’s a series that has many, many twists and turns,” says former Beverley High School student Tomlinson. “It’s very layered. There’s so much going on with each individual character and you see that fall apart and then rebuild itself in this slightly warped shape. And it suddenly becomes quite dangerous at one point.”
“You can definitely see the wheels coming off,” she continues, “and there being a kind of unravelling and then once this line is crossed, how far do you go? And how much of your environment around you causes pressure? And how are you influenced by that?”
Heughan describes the smothering suburban setting as its own character: “This sort of stylised suburbia that on the surface looks like an episode of The Jetsons, everything’s perfect, but actually underneath everyone’s watching each other and there’s a lot of underlying issues.”
“It explores the claustrophobia of suburbia,” adds Tomlinson, “and like Sam was saying, it’s almost its own character within the piece. That first shot – we see everyone leaving at the same time and all the cars reversing – I think everyone has that fear of the humdrum of existence, life becoming that day-to-day routine.”
That sense of stagnation is part of the catalyst for Evie in searching beyond the boundaries of her seemingly perfect life. Ostensibly, she’s completed most of life’s checklist – long-term, supportive relationship, fulfilling job as a primary school teacher, comfortable house.
But she finds herself yearning for more. And as she searches, her gaze lands on Danny next door, putting out the dustbins in the rain, all handsome and drizzled.
“Evie is in a long-term relationship with Pete and we realise quite quickly that they’ve been together since they were at university and he was her first proper relationship,” explains Tomlinson. “And they’ve just kind of settled into life, and it no longer particularly excites either of them.”
“She’s seemingly perfect. And then when life takes a turn and doesn’t go the way that she wanted it or expected it to, she begins to spiral and goes a bit mad with it, chasing this dream but also desperate to break away from the confines that she feels have been imposed on her.”
But this is not a simple affair with the woman/man next door story. It is complex. Danny appears to be a steady, strapping man. But he harbours his own secrets. And his relationship with his wife, Becka, the warm, sensual yoga instructor, is not quite what it seems either.
“On the surface, Dan is a stand up guy. We have a lot of preconceptions about him. He’s this sort of alpha male traffic cop. But quite quickly you find out that he’s got a lot of secrets as well and his relationship at home is also an interesting one.
“And the more he gets embedded into situations with the other couple, but also in the nefarious operations going on, he is really struggling to keep his head above water. Those grey areas he really struggles with. His morality is constantly questioned.”
The Couple Next Door comes to Channel 4 on Monday, November 27.