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Wilderness, Prime Video review - twisty thriller that leaves a nasty aftertaste | reviews, news & interviews

Wilderness, Prime Video review - twisty thriller that leaves a nasty aftertaste

Wilderness, Prime Video review - twisty thriller that leaves a nasty aftertaste

Gilded couple explore the barren lands of their blighted marriage

On a trip of a lifetime: Oliver Jackson Cohen and Jenna ColemanPrime Video

Jenna Coleman has had a mostly upbeat acting CV to date, notably playing Clara in Doctor Who and the young Queen in ITV’s Victoria. The mood darkened with her excellent turn as the French-Canadian girlfriend of the mass murderer in The Serpent; now it turns to pitch with Wilderness.

This time Coleman is Liv and attemptedly Welsh (the accent comes and goes), recently married to aspirational Englishman Will (Oliver Jackson Cohen), who is promoted to a plum job in New York by the luxury hotel company he works for. There, in her sumptuous apartment, where she is ostensibly writing an untitled novel, she stumbles upon signs of his infidelity with a colleague, Cara, barely a year into their marriage, and the grim process of getting her revenge begins (pictured below, Ashley Benson as Cara).

There should be a term for this kind of television drama: violent tales of murderous marrieds that are a variant of novels-turned-films such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, which can trace their recent bloodline back to 1990s films like Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge (Wilderness was adapted from B E Jones's novel of the same name). They were kicked into life by Damages and given a deluxe spin by The Undoing, though were almost bled dry by the plonkingly titled four-season series Revenge. 

Their leading ladies are usually smart and plucky but damaged, and they specialise in relationships with men who seem like ideal partners but are anything but; if the spouses are in fact blameless, they usually wind up dead. It’s noir marital melodrama of a particularly nasty kind, sometimes in the name of feminist “freedom”. These people typically live in attractive houses and earn good money.

Coleman plays a woman from an ordinary background who marries into this milieu. Her parents were at war after she saw her father having sex with another woman and told her mother, which detonated his marriage; she has struggled with the aftermath all her life, assuming she isn’t worthy of being loved. Her mother (excellent Claire Rushbrook) stalks her ex-husband and his new partner, and it’s in Liv’s DNA too: infidelity is not something she can take in her stride. She is sporadically steely, mostly cool and resourceful in her pursuit of the truth, though sometimes a teary mess. Coleman breezes through her scenes with a crisp efficiency.

Her husband is an even more pronounced split personality, both a loathsome cheater, vulpine and cruel-looking, and a sunny boyish man, a devoted, uxorious husband. This is handy for abrupt plot switches, but psychologically tough for the viewer to fathom. Everything in the series exists as part of TV-land, where things happen because the plot needs them to, not because there is an internal logic beyond that which is nurturing them. Basic human life is presumably going on at the margins of the plot, but we rarely  see it (it’s a treat when Liv’s mother hoves into view, playing bingo with her pals). And basic emotions aren’t in evidence either: everything is filtered through the narrow prism of the plot, which calls for betrayals and lies, overwrought confessions and grotesque amorality, but rarely kindness or genuine sympathy or plain banalities. The wilderness of the title is presumably metaphorical, a term for the barren lands of a blighted marriage.

Literally, though, it’s the American West, which the couple visit on a dream trip Liv has always wanted to make – Will’s attempt at restitution after she first discovers his “one-night-stand”. So, regardless of how you handle the melodramatics of the action, there are some spectacular views to take in as they drive from national park to national park, through Arizona to California, en route to Las Vegas, with hardly an RV or Airstream in sight (more TV-land unreality). 

In this overcooked atmosphere, the twists come regularly and pretty predictably as the screw tightens on the plot – by the end I was giving the characters what I guessed their next lines would be, and was mostly right. If you get pleasure from that kind of game, this is the series for you. I found its final trenchant, man-hating sentiments completely unearned, an empty gesture. The opening credits are fun, though, in a sub-White Lotus way, with Taylor Swift singing “Look what you made me do” over them, as if waving a giant skull-and-crossbones in the viewer’s face, alerting us to the show’s thematics. But even though it’s a great pop song, it’s a lousy moral compass. 

These women specialise in relationships with men who seem like ideal partners but are anything but

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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