The Confessions of Frannie Langton review: Karla-Simone Spence gives a tour-de-force performance in ITVX drama

Karla-Simone Spence stars in The Confessions of Frannie Langton, a new ITVX period drama adapted by Sara Collins from her own novel

The Confessions of Frannie Langton opens with a murder. Or, rather, immediately after one: Frannie Langton (Karla-Simone Spence) wakes up in bed with Marguerite (Sophie Cookson), surrounded by a pool of blood. Downstairs, Frannie’s former owner and Marguerite’s husband George Benham (Stephen Campbell Moore) lies stabbed to death. Frannie is swiftly accused of a double murder – a hanging offence. Her legal aid patronises to her, certain in his moral fortitude and convinced he’s helping her by instructing her to plead guilty – he’s got no space for her own account of her life, no faith in her claims of innocence.

With her life in the balance, Frannie offers a defence. “I’m fed up of people like you deciding who I am or what I am as soon as you take one look at me,” she insists, “and I will not confess to something I don’t believe I’ve done.” The four-part period drama – set in the late 1820s, the slave trade still looming – charts Frannie’s journey from a Jamaican plantation to Benham’s home, following her as she strikes up a relationship with Margueritte. Its central irony – and central tragedy – is that Frannie’s first meaningful chance to speak for herself, the first time she’s given space to define herself and articulate her own experiences, comes as she waits in prison before possible execution.

Karla Simone-Spence as Frannie Langton, holding a candle (Credit: ITVX/Drama Republic)
Karla Simone-Spence as Frannie Langton, holding a candle (Credit: ITVX/Drama Republic)
Karla Simone-Spence as Frannie Langton, holding a candle (Credit: ITVX/Drama Republic)

“In truth,” Frannie says, “no one ever expects any kind of story from me”. It’s a very voiceover heavy story, an attempt to preserve the intimacy of a novel while translating it for the screen. “No doubt you’re thinking this will just be another one of those slave histories all sugared over with misery and despair,” she narrates. “It won’t be. This isn’t a story about that – this is a story about me.” There’s a real and conscious effort across the series – both from Spence and Sara Collins, the first-time author turned first time screenwriter adapting her 2019 novel of the same name here – to centre Frannie as an individual first and foremost, away from any other narratives or assumptions that might’ve been imposed otherwise (both within the text and outside of it).

It’s held together by a tour-de-force performance from Karla-Simone Spence (in her first lead role in a television drama); she’s equal parts steel and vulnerability, playing a character that resists easy categorisation and proves a compelling dramatic lead across the series. There’s no better way to describe it than simply to say that Spence has a star quality – she’s the anchor for the drama, equally adept in moments of pain and romance alike, always remarkable as Frannie. She’s matched by Sophie Cookson as Marguerite, Frannie’s ill-fated lover; the pair have strong chemistry together, teasing out the contradictions and complications of the unusual romance and enlivening an already well-observed script.

Ultimately, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is an impressive production all round – one of the stronger ITV dramas in some time, a piece that speaks well of the nascent ITVX platform. For Frannie, meanwhile, there’s a triumph – or, maybe more accurately, a catharsis - in the confession itself, in the act of self-articulation on its own terms. In private, yes, changing little, perhaps, but bringing her some kind of peace at the end too.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is available now on ITVX. I watched all four episodes before writing this review.

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