On Wednesday night, Channel 4 follow-up Cyberbully with The People Next Door, another compelling and thought-provoking drama, this time looking at what happens when a young couple move in next door to the neighbours from hell.
In my opinion, the best television dramas are ones which appear as close to real-life as possible. The reason I'm not a huge science-fiction, fantasy or period drama fan, is that I often find it difficult to suspend my disbelief.
There are exceptions of course, but on the whole I prefer my drama contemporary. I like to be able to relate to the characters on screen, or at least recognise them as people I know. It’s almost as if Channel 4 (writer/director Ben Chanan) knew this when making The People Next Door as the hour-long drama is as real and relatable as you can get.
Shot via a mixture of CCTV cameras, phone footage and video cameras, The People Next Door was at times, uncomfortable to watch. I felt as though I had been sent someone’s home movie, and was watching it without them knowing, but as I’m sure would happen if that were the case, fascination took over and I couldn't help but keep watching.
The actors aren’t overly recognisable either, which really helped with the authenticity. The two main leads, Gemma and Richard are played brilliantly by Joanna Horton and Karl Davies. Her most memorable role to date is probably Fish Tank (2009), and Karl is best-known for Emmerdale and Happy Valley.
The hour-long drama opens with the couple being interviewed by police following an altercation with their neighbours. While they claim it’s their neighbours who are in the wrong, the police seem convinced that they are the ones who have committed a crime. We then cut to two months earlier, and through a series of flashbacks, we begin to piece together the events that led to their questioning.
The People Next Door then goes on to explore the story of expectant parents Gemma and Richard, who move into their first home, only to find that they have bought a property next to the neighbours from hell. She’s convinced that she “can hear crying coming through the wall” and suspects that a child is being locked in a room and mistreated.
After consulting friends, Gemma and Richard, already filming a baby blog, start an evidence blog to document anything they hear or notice, believing that one child in particular could be being abused.
Whether it’s listening through the wall, going through their bins or planting a nanny cam in their house, it seems the couple will stop at nothing to get answers. And the more desperate they get to find those answers, especially Gemma, the more uncomfortable it becomes to watch.
Uncomfortable because you’re not sure what you would do if you were in Gemma’s situation.
Gemma is definitely the one driving the intrusion (if you can call it that), whilst Richard is reluctant to get involved or cause trouble with the neighbours. Frustrated by the apparent lack of intervention by the authorities, they turn to increasingly elaborate forms of surveillance to find out what is happening behind closed doors.
But is their increasingly intrusive invasion of their neighbours privacy really morally justified? Or are Gemma and Richard the real neighbours from hell.
It’s not often a drama makes you think, not to the extent that The People Next Door does anyway. We all have neighbours, we’ve all probably heard something we shouldn’t have and some of us have probably reacted similarly to Gemma and Richard.
But did they go too far with their surveillance? Is it ever justified to take the law into your own hands and gather your own evidence? Or, is it ever justified to just sit back, assume something horrible is going on, and do nothing? It’s a tough one.
These aren’t easy questions to answer, but The People Next Door will most definitely open up a conversation about the issue. Often it’s a case of damned if you, damned if you don’t, and just to warn you, if you’re anything like me, your opinion of Gemma and Richard will change throughout the hour, and it’s this ambiguity of who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong that I love.
All I’ll say is keeping watching right through to the end, because just when you think the drama has ended, it hasn’t. There’s still one more bombshell to drop. One that will leave you itching for a second episode, something that sadly will never come.