Channel 4’s new thriller The Couple Next Door follows the lives of Pete (Alfred Enoch) and Evie (Eleanor Tomlinson), a young couple expecting their first baby, as they move to an eerie, upscale suburb – and soon find they’re out of their depths.
When they are unexpectedly knocked by grief, their picture-perfect life quickly begins to unravel, and their new neighbours Becka (Jessica De Gouw) and Danny (Sam Heughan) are there to pick up the pieces.
Poldark star Eleanor Tomlinson and Outlander actor Sam Heughan spoke to Grazia ahead of the new six-part series, which arrives on Channel 4 on Monday 27 November.
‘I think it’s a bit of a departure for us both,’ Heughan says, ‘having come from period dramas to go into something very contemporary and very stylised.’ Tomlinson and Heughan were both drawn towards the project because it marked a welcome change from what they're used to, and also for the opportunity to work with the show’s director, Dries Vos (Suspect). ‘They managed to assemble this really interesting team,’ adds Tomlinson. ‘It’s a very different project for me and that was immediately enticing. And it was a great decision because I had the time of my life.’
The series was shot across three locations in Belgium, the Netherlands and Leeds and paints an unsettling picture of claustrophobic suburban life. Expect curtain twitching, sharp tonal changes, and a reminder that you never really know what goes on behind closed doors.
When central couples Evie and Pete meet Becka and Danny, it doesn’t take long before they discover that their new neighbours are in a non-monogamous relationship – and they are immediately intrigued. Prior to moving, Evie and Pete had carved out a fairly conventional life for themselves, but grief sparks an unexpected change in them both and they begin to redefine their boundaries as a couple.
‘We spent a lot of time talking about it and working it out so that each scene was a progression,’ Tomlinson explains with regards to exploring non-monogamy on screen. ‘As a cast we got so lucky in that all four of us are very good friends. It immediately makes scenes like that much easier, because they aren’t the easiest things to do.’
Heughan agrees. For his part, he wanted to ensure none of the intimate scenes felt gratuitous and that the subject was handled sensitively. ‘Jess [De Gouw] has friends who are in that situation, and it was really insightful,' he explains. 'We wanted to portray that it isn’t some sort of scandalous thing, it’s possibly a true representation of people who are so comfortable with each other and so in love that they can allow their partner to explore other situations.’
The Couple Next Door interrogates our perceived ideas of family and relationships, and repeatedly invites us to question them. This is true in the context of their romantic relationships, but it is also true of their characters at large. ‘I think my character is trying to find freedom,’ Heughan says. His character Danny is an on-call traffic cop who turns to organised crime to deal with his mounting debts, while Evie's husband Pete is a stifled journalist working at a paper that's losing its moral compass. ‘All the characters are in some ways trying to escape or examine or study or understand the world that they live in,' adds Heughan.
Then there's Evie, a primary school teacher trying to settle into a new school while navigating grief as well as her confusing feelings towards Danny next door; both of which force her to confront the lingering effects of her staunchly religious upbringing. ‘Everything she has grown up being told is wrong or sordid, for want of a better word, is suddenly no longer the case,’ Tomlinson explains. 'Suddenly she realises that her life has a pattern to it – you can be in a routine and not know how you got there or how to get out of it.'
All of the characters face this moral quandary at one point or another, sometimes at the risk of their friendships, relationships and reputations. 'I think the audience is really going to struggle to agree on who's right and who's wrong,' notes Heughan. ‘We worked hard on creating a real kind of bond between us so that you have so much more to lose,’ Tomlinson adds, ‘because it’s a show about friendship as well, and that trust is broken between all of us. It’s interesting.’
It's clear that testing society's well trodden expectations is a main themes in this series – cushioned by creepy neighbours (look out for Hugh Dennis), seduction and the confines of monotonous suburban life. It’s ambitious and at times erratic in its exploration of these ideas, but it definitely keeps its promise of being 'deliciously dark'. For anyone with a Desperate Housewives shaped hole in their life, The Couple Next Door could be the show you've been looking for.
The Couple Next Door starts Monday 27 November, 9pm, Channel 4_