The Girl Before Is A Twisted Thriller About Nightmare Landlords

Courtesy of BBC.
Jane (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)
Nightmare landlord stories are a rite of passage for anyone who has ever rented a property. Leaky ceilings, dodgy mould, withheld deposits – we’ve all been there. One jaunt on #PropertyTok pretty much sums up the hideous landscape. Thankfully, most of us generally only have to deal with our landlords on a need-to basis. But imagine if they controlled everything about your living situation: the music, the décor, what time you went to sleep. What if they played puppet-master to your emotions? This exact scenario is the driving force behind BBC One’s compelling psychological thriller The Girl Before.
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Directed by Killing Eve's Lisa Brühlmann and adapted from JP Delaney’s New York Times bestselling book of the same name, the opening scene of the four-part series sweeps across the property in question: One Folgate Street. Beautiful, minimal and starkly modern – designed by enigmatic architect Edward Monkford (David Oyelowo) – it’s like something out of Architectural Digest, complete with floating staircase and a glass atrium shielding a tree. At night, foxes are mysteriously drawn to this tree.
Courtesy of BBC.
Emma (Jessica Plummer), Carol (Amanda Drew)
"The landlord sets an affordable rent for people to live here the way he intended," the estate agent tells intrigued prospective tenants, highlighting around 200 rules they would have to abide by: "No pictures, no ornaments, no carpets or rugs, no books, no children, no planting anything in the gardens..." You get in with a bracelet and the lights are automatic (imagine being midway through dinner and the whole house suddenly goes pitch black). Oh, and there’s just that small thing of an in-person interview with selective, perfectionist landlord Monkford, and a questionnaire comprising the most intrusive questions. An AI housekeeper system presides over the house, collecting intimate data about its inhabitants, from how warm they like their showers to their mood at any given point. Yes, it is creepy and alarm bells should be ringing but city living is so expensive. What would you surrender for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in your dream house for ridiculously low rent?
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We meet two women, each applying to live in the house. Jane (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a financial PR exec, single, disciplined and ambitious. Emma (Jessica Plummer) is slightly chaotic, working in an unfulfilling marketing job and accompanied by insecure boyfriend Simon. Both women jump at the life-changing chance to move into One Folgate Street and it is then that we realise: they are on two different timelines. Emma lived at the house three years prior and it’s been vacant ever since…until Jane. Emma is 'the girl before' and there’s no shaking the similarities in appearance between the two women. 
Courtesy of BBC.
Emma (Jessica Plummer)
What kind of person would move into a house like this? A place so void of warmth, personal touch, reminders of the past? We learn that both Jane and Emma are trying to escape recent trauma. Emma was the victim of a violent break-in and found herself robbed at knifepoint. Her priority is safety, which Folgate Street promises with its looming brutalist walls and technology-driven security. Jane is a grieving mother who gave birth to a stillborn daughter. Her previous residence is packed with toy mobiles and cots, lingering reminders of what could have been. With the 'unnecessary' clutter removed, both women believe they are being granted a clean slate. Swiftly, however, they realise that their new home is like a pressure cooker – with no distractions and nowhere to hide, everything is intended to boil to the surface, and all is not as it seems. As time ticks on, once welcome rules predictably become an oppressive chokehold. Sometimes, humiliatingly, the virtual system withholds water until the tenant concedes to another 50-part questionnaire to recalibrate the system. Three years apart, we see both Emma and Jane shaking in the shower, clutching a towel, already running late for work. Would you be happy with a second-rate partner? It blinks away intrusively on the screen. 
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Courtesy of BBC.
Edward (David Oyelowo)
Rather than a warning against technology, we’re asked to suss out the man who built the house: self-confident, charming and mysterious Monkford. We see him, three years apart, wooing both vulnerable women with exactly the same proposition. Just like the strange rules of the minimal house he has built, he proposes they enter into a relationship with him stripped of any 'unessential' relationship conventions, like romantic gestures or Valentine’s Day gifts. He convinces the women that it’s freeing to break away from societal expectations but it’s clearly a move to absolve him of any neglect or fuckboy behaviour that may arise. No need to meet his partner’s needs – he’s already dismissed them as silly or folly. He has secrets, and something more sinister is afoot.
At first, Jane relishes the calmness and discipline of the house, which matches her own high standards and work ethic. But as time goes on she discovers that the girl before, Emma, met an unnerving and mysterious fate within the very same four walls. As the series unfolds and the women’s timelines begin to converge, Jane searches for answers and wonders whether she will meet the same fate.
At its heart, The Girl Before is about nightmare landlords but it’s also about coercive control and running from the past, whether in relationships or in other aspects of our lives. It shows the creeping influence and control that a partner can exert over you under the guise of 'protection' or 'helping you grow'. The house’s rules begin to alienate the women from anyone on the outside and the initially freeing concept of being stripped of any decision-making takes its toll. Oh, and what is under that tree? Compelling and disturbing, you can feel your throat constricting as the episodes tick on. You’ll never be more grateful for your own landlord.
The Girl Before premieres on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Sunday 19th December

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