(The podcast version of this review is below. You can find the links to listen on Apple, Spotify, Amazon at the top of this page - you can also search on your usual podcast platforms - and a shorter video reveiw is at the bottom.)
“People who knew me think I’m dead.
There, I said it.”
If you could leave behind your life and become someone new, would you do it? This thrilling and emotional drama series will have you questioning your own moral choices.
14 years after faking her own death on 9/11, Connie is living in LA with her teenage daughter and having to face unto her secret past when she is diagnosed with cancer.
I’m going to be a little bit vague with plot details as I think the less you know, the more you’ll get drawn into this powerful drama. With three strands of a story all teasing “what’s gonna happen next?”, the ten 15 minute long episodes zip along gaining momentum and upping the stakes.
A top cast and an evocative soundscape bring the emotions and suspense expertly to your ears and it made me feel like I was right there more than most dramas. Sometimes, it was uncomfortable to be right there and I’ll give you a heads up right from the beginning that at times this is quite graphic - so maybe not ideal for the school run in the morning.
If the set up in People Who Knew Me is reminiscent of a Hollywood drama, then it has an A-List cast to match. Rosamund Pike is Connie, who we are introduced to living in LA as she adapts to her cancer diagnosis. Through her - to begin with reluctant - conversations with fellow patient Hugh Laurie, we begin to realise that worrying about her future is possibly preferable to confronting her past.
“People who knew me think I’m dead,” is the opening line we hear from Connie as she addresses Emily - the person she used to be - when she feels compelled to revisit her actions back in New York 14 years ago. This effective device of talking to her past self helps both us, the listener, and Connie the character. For us, we can all maybe relate to referring to our past selves as if they are a different person (granted, me thanking past for me for remembering to buy wine is a bit different to this situation) and helps us understand the distance Connie has put between her new and old life.
It also helps Connie deal with the guilt of her choice: It wasn’t me. It was her. Look at the life she had, the decisions she made. I’m the one who has made a life.
This unpacking of her previous life as a one sided conversation with her past self is the first of the three strands. We are the other side of the divide in the confessional box as Connie talks to Emily about the build up to the day she “died” and through unpacking the past she explains - justifies - what she did. She is no “easy to warm to” likeable protagonist - but she is very real. So real in fact that I did at one point forget it was a drama and became convinced it was based on a true story. I found the descriptions of a life that is so evidently disappointing subtly moving - I feel many people experience that but just wash the indigestion of disappointment down with a dose of wine or scream therapy and get on with it. There are work, family, and personal ups and downs in Emily's life and we inch closer and closer to finding out “what made this woman run away?”
The first strand unpacking the past plays out alongside the present day events as Connie attempts to come to terms with her cancer diagnosis. Rosamund Pike imbues Connie with a weary, yet angry denial of what she is facing. The light to this shade comes in the form of sunny Paul, voiced with real bounce and heart by Hugh Laurie. At first, firmly given the cold shoulder but gradually Connie thaws and one of the most heart wrenching scenes underpins the third strand: what - if anything - is Connie going to tell her daughter about her health and her past? Because we find out quickly that Connie’s daughter - Claire - has no idea that there is a secret other life her mother has hidden from her. Can she now risk leaving her daughter with no family? Or is the risk that by revealing the truth, she will lose her anyway?
The three strands are expertly and evenly interwoven together and the picture of a woman dealing with the one decision she made years ago - that felt like the only choice she had left - is revealed. Each strand is at risk of fraying your nerves and I was genuinely unsure about what was going to happen at every step of the way. Despite the at times sombre or troubling plot, there were moments I was caught unaware by an involuntary laugh at humour found in unexpected places. Which is something I’ve learnt to cherish over the last three years…
Based on the novel of the same title by Kim Hooper, this adaption is honed into a sleek emotional thriller by writer director Daniella Isaacs. I wasn’t surprised to find in my little bit of digging that Isaacs has previously written for the stage as there is a real flow to the dialogue and the use of sound as a stage - it starts bare and is only encroached on by something necessary to move the story on or reveal a feeling, a thought. So the dialogue is given uncluttered space and pauses, and then coloured by relevant ambient sounds such as a closing door acting as punctuation.
Metaphorical as well as real doors opening and shutting is very much a theme and it will have you question what choices you would make in a similar situation.
One choice I implore you to make is to seek out this excellent show. People Who Knew Me is available now on BBC Sounds and all good podcast providers.
My biscuit rating for People Who Knew Me is: CHOCOLATE ROUNDS.
They feel luxurious and a treat and you’re not sure you deserve their quality - you do. Savour it and enjoy the combination of tastes.
Now, I mentioned these biscuits to someone the other day and I had to show them a picture as they didn’t know what I meant. So, if you're not sure - here's a picture. They are a round with a hole in the middle of shortcake biscuit - oh my the crunch - covered in cement thick chocolate. Top tier biscuit.