Insomnia review: Vicky McClure is great in this ridiculous British potboiler

Television: Following a well-established formula where a successful middle-class woman’s life is ripped apart, Insomnia is silly but gets under the skin

Insomnia (Paramount + from Thursday) is not to be confused with the popular coffee chain or the 2002 Christopher Nolan movie in which Al Pacino squared off against a villainous Robin Williams. Instead of Al vs Rob, it’s Vicky McClure vs her family demons in an agreeably ridiculous British potboiler (Britboiler?).

It follows a well-established formula, where a successful middle-class woman’s life is ripped apart by forces beyond her control. Sometimes, the agent of chaos is a straying husband. On other occasions, it may be a troubled child or a long-buried secret rising up from the darkness.

In Insomnia, the demon is seemingly locked in the DNA of McClure’s Emma Averill – a high-flying family lawyer, devoted spouse and parent. She has it all – a doting husband, a scrumptious kitchen, a wizzo lifestyle featuring great friends and never-ending dinner parties.

Oh, but there’s a closet – and a skeleton rattling in it. Emma’s mother had a breakdown many years ago and was packed off to a psychiatric hospital. Her daughter has shunned her ever since – to the disapproval of her sister Phoebe (Leanne Best), who comes back from out of the blue with news that their mum is ill and will soon die.


That would be a crisis for anybody. Yet worse is to follow as Emma begins to experience difficulty sleeping and starts to have visions in which she is haunted by her mother. Her increased restlessness is keeping her husband, Rob (Tom Cullen), awake at night, and she is also suffering memory lapses. How, for instance, did she go from her bed to a pond in the back garden?

Her family is stumped and Rob quietly installs nanny cameras to get to the truth. Emma believes she already knows what is going on. Her mother’s difficulties began when she turned 40 – a milestone our heroine is herself approaching. Is the family curse kicking in?

Insomnia is adapted from a novel by Sarah Pinborough, who wrote Behind Her Eyes, the source material for the bonkers Netflix thriller starring Eve Hewson. That show was enjoyably bizarre until it threw in a fantastical twist that many viewers found difficult to swallow.

This new series is nowhere near as ludicrous. The question it poses from the outset is whether Emma’s sleep deprivation is indeed hereditary – or if someone is gaslighting her.

To keep things ticking along, the script throws in various subplots – one concerning Emma’s grumpy, pot-smoking teenager – and matters soon reach a level of gleeful hysteria. But McClure is great and underneath the pulp trappings, Insomnia explores, with a reasonable degree of seriousness, the challenge of ageing parents and of confronting parts of yourself that are beyond your control. It’s silly but gets under the skin.