In the inaugural scene of The BBC’s gripping series, “The Woman in the Wall,” Lorna, portrayed by the talented Ruth Wilson, sprawls across a rain-soaked Irish countryside road, draped in a billowing white nightdress, surrounded by horses. It’s an uncanny and surreal tableau, further intensified when she rises, shivering, and marches back towards town, throwing disdainful glares at anyone who dares to cast a quizzical gaze her way. “What the heck are you two staring at?” she sharply retorts to some curious onlookers, adding a rather impolite gesture for emphasis. This initial encounter provides a glimpse of Lorna’s humor, mixed with an unmistakable air of unpredictability.
The narrative takes an even stranger twist as she returns home to discover a bloody knife plunged into a portrait of Jesus Christ and later stumbles upon the lifeless form of a woman crumpled nearby. “This isn’t good,” she mutters while attempting to remove the weapon from the sacred visage. It’s evident that she’s grappling with amnesia, uncertain of her involvement in these peculiar events.
Unveiling the layers of her character, it’s revealed that Lorna is a frequent sleepwalker, perpetually plagued by the traumatic memories of her time in one of Ireland’s infamous Magdalene laundries. For the uninitiated, these laundries were institutions designed to house “fallen women,” including sex workers and unmarried pregnant women, often viewed as deviants by the Catholic church. These institutions were a grim reality spanning the 18th to the late 20th century. Lorna’s flashbacks transport her back to those harrowing days when she was separated from her child, leaving her emotionally scarred.
Today, Lorna’s life is a turbulent and disconcerting journey. She is never truly at rest, perpetually unaware of her nocturnal actions. As the episode unfolds, we witness her slipping into slumber and awakening with a dreamlike haze. Within moments, she’s wielding an axe and charging through neon-lit nighttime streets, as if driven by an enigmatic purpose (though that purpose remains a mystery).
Ruth Wilson, no stranger to portraying complex, unhinged characters, often laced with dark humor and warmth, brings her signature expertise to the role. From her deliciously evil turn as the infamous psychopath Alice Morgan in “Luther” to her chilling portrayal of the icy and malevolent Mrs. Coulter in “His Dark Materials,” Wilson excels in these multifaceted roles. “Each scene allows you to keep switching and bewildering the audience, confounding your fellow actors,” she remarked about her portrayal of Mrs. Coulter. “She’s a master manipulator, incredibly intelligent, driven, and determined to get what she wants.”
Nevertheless, Lorna doesn’t exude evilness; she remains likable, albeit troubled. She isn’t kidnapping children, and she lacks the cold, heartless demeanor of a sociopath. Yet, she possesses a resolute determination, and there is an unsettling sight of a bloody corpse in her abode, coupled with her occasional frenzied axe-wielding escapades. However, akin to all of Wilson’s characters, there’s a sparkle in her eye, a mischievous glint that compels you to root for her, regardless of her past deeds or the uncertain future that looms.
In a landscape brimming with crime dramas, The Woman in the Wall stands apart. It offers a twisted and gothic narrative, surreal and spine-chilling, occasionally interjected with humor and a profound sense of peculiarity. It’s as if a classic horror tale has been revamped and reshaped for the contemporary era. The modern setting serves as a stark reminder that, while the Magdalene laundries may seem like relics of the distant past, they are firmly rooted in living memory. The last Magdalene laundry closed its doors on September 25, 1996, in Waterford, Ireland, a fact that The Woman in the Wall starkly underscores.