Told in shades of gray under cloudy skies, Netflix original “The Innocents” takes a compelling story to a dark place full of unexpected twists and turns.
Upon turning 16, June McDaniel (Sorcha Groundsell) makes plans with her secret boyfriend, Harry Polk (Percelle Ascott) to run away from her overbearing father, John McDaniel (Sam Hazeldine), as he plans to move them to a new home on a remote island. John has not allowed his daughter to maintain friendships or have a cellphone at home, effectively isolating her from the outside world. It is later revealed he has been adding small doses of a sedative to her food in order to combat “episodes” related to her supernatural ability to shape-shift, which he has deceptively convinced his daughter to believe are epilepsy. As June and Harry make their way to London, June’s ability proves to be as equally frightening as it is magical.
A compelling story is not enough to save “The Innocents.” The series suffers from a distinct lack of quality of acting, specifically between Groundsell and Ascott. It makes sense for Ascott’s character Harry to be confused as he and June are discovering her ability. What does not make sense, however, is how far and how long this confusion stretches throughout the series. Through Ascott’s portrayal of Harry, what could have been a funny or dynamic character is left static, with a weird look on his face.
The show’s acting can pass as decent when compared to the styling, executed by production designer Linda Wilson and production manager Kelly Duffel. As a serious teen drama, where its scenes’ dark, dreary landscapes and overcast skies are skillfully designed to represent the alienation June feels, Groundsell’s portrayal of June falls especially flat. It is abundantly clear the set and costuming was done in this way to provide a contrast to the liveliness of the characters, yet the characters blend in with the scenery in an incredibly pedestrian manner.
In order to give credit where credit is due, it is important to acknowledge how respectful “The Innocents” is of its audience. There are no attempts at sugarcoating what is meant to be a gruesome love story, and the trappings of young adulthood are not simply lifted away with Hollywood magic. June and Harry face problems characteristic to the young adult canon, but their solutions are far from fantastic. While on their own, they turn to dealing drugs to make money. “The Innocents” likely intends to reflect the experiences of viewers who have had to strike out on their own and make a living in some similarly undesirable way. Showrunners Hania Elkington and Simon Duric, present a rather grim view of reality but present an extremely valid experience to their audience. It’s one of many recent successful attempts at being upfront with a young audience ready to face the dark side of reality in their entertainment.
Flat acting aside, “The Innocents” operates under the assumption that its audience is far from the classic standard of young adult romance and delivers a product respectful of their intellect and comprehension. Prepare for a grim tale with a twist of the unexpected.