Adapted from Harlan Cohen’s 2015 novel, The Stranger details the fallout for the Price family when a mysterious woman starts revealing secrets…
It hurts, doesn’t it? We all have our secrets, Adam. Even you.
It’s this idea that resonates and permeates throughout The Stranger’s infinitely bingeable eight episodes. Everybody has secrets: and nobody quite knows that like the Stranger (Hannah John-Karen), and those that she reveals have a habit of derailing people’s entire lives.
This is precisely what happens to Adam Price (Richard Armitage). Outwardly, Adam Price’s life looks perfect. He has an adoring wife, Corinne (Dervla Kirwan) and two children, Thomas (Jacob Dudman) and Ryan (Misha Handley) and live in a beautiful house in Manchester, supported by Adam’s job as a lawyer and Corrine’s position as a teacher. After a dads vs sons football match at the local football club, Adam is just about ready to sit through yet another boring meeting, when he is approached by the mysterious Stranger, who splits his entire world apart.
Revealing that the pregnancy his wife had a few years previously was an elaborate lie, the Stranger manages to escape before Adam is able to ask any further questions. The encounter is enough to sew the seeds of suspicion in Adam’s brain and, having looked into Corinne’s expenses, confronts her about the deception. Before having a chance to fully explain herself, however, Corinne mysterious disappears, leaving no indication to her family as to where she has gone.
And just like that, the Price’s family life lies in disarray. That’s not the strangest thing that’s happening in Manchester, either. Elsewhere, down to earth, capable detective Johanna Griffin (Siobhan Finneran) investigates the strange appearance of a decapitated alpaca, and a naked teenager found lying in the middle of the woods, causing the teenagers of the community, including Thomas, his girlfriend Daisy (Ella-Rae Smith) and best friend Mike (Brandon Fellows), to hastily cover up their tracks.
Johanna’s life is far from it appears as well. Though she is the dedicated detective at work, at home she has finally decided to leave her husband, leaning upon her best friend Heidi Doyle (Jennifer Saunders), who she decides to go on a trip of a lifetime with. Adam also tries to juggle his investigation into Corinne’s disappearance with his duties to Martin Killane (Stephen Rea), a curmudgeonly ex-police officer, who fights to prevent workmen trying to bulldoze his home.
The Stranger is an intricate tapestry of all of these disparate plot threads, bouncing between all of them in a way that keeps twist after twist coming in quick succession. All of the storylines are compelling as the viewer tries to unpick and untangle the links between them. Trying to determine the connection between the Stranger’s presence with Corinne’s disappearance, as well as the terrible secret lurking behind her fake pregnancy, along with the dead alpaca and mysterious party in the woods makes for an all-too-consumable thriller.
The shifting motivations of the Stranger also serve to keep the audience hooked. Though at first she seems a benevolent person, seeking to erase secrets and lies in others’ relationships, she later appears to be blackmailing other people for the same information. Does she really have people’s best interests at heart, or does she have more sinister motivations.
Somehow, these plot lines end up intricately linked in an engaging and fascinating fashion. Retrospectively, some of these links are massively contrived, but are brilliantly presented within the context of the show. As each mystery breaks down and reveals important information about other areas of the tale, the show remains tense throughout.
The series is supported by brilliant performances across the board. Richard Armitage and Siobhan Finneran lie at the dead centre of proceedings. Armitage traverses the shifting emotions of family man Adam Price with captivating ease, while Finneran plays the role of kind hearted, no nonsense, northern police officer Johanna Griffin, who anybody would be honoured to have investigate the murder of a loved one.
It’s not just these two characters who are wonderfully realised, however. Jennifer Saunders, typically known for her comedic roles, is just as effective here in a dramatic part, immediately winning the heart’s of the viewers, to devastating effect. Dervla Kirwan is also captivating as mother Corinne Price, who harbours deep secrets within her marriage, and whose disappearance fuels much of the series. Jacob Dubman is also a highlight as eldest son Thomas Price, and Stephen Rea is delightfully endearing as a grumpy recluse. Hannah John-Karen is also suitably enigmatic and aloof to carry off the mysterious role of the Stranger at the heart of it all.
The Stranger makes sure to keep the audience hooked throughout by delivering unexpected twist after twist, successfully subverting the audience’s expectations each time. For the most part, this is thrilling, though some revelations border on the side of the mundane. Having said that, there’s always a massive cliffhanger to warrant tuning into the next episode. A true roller coaster of a journey, you’ll probably find yourself devouring it in one sitting in a crazed rush, then sit in shock trying to comprehend what you’ve just watched.
The Stranger is now streaming on Netflix.