Mary Ann Cotton was Britain's first female serial killer. Dark Angel told her rather far-fetched seeming story. But hailing from County Durham, she really existed. Using a teapot full of arsenic, when not scrubbing away bed bugs, Mary Ann murdered her way through at least three husbands, one lover, her mother, best friend, and possibly several of her children, and a few of other people's too. Her husbands all had life insurance policies, which were readily paid out to our evil, hyperfertile, softspoken Mackem. (Not that she got wealthy from their deaths - she remained poor and debt-ridden.) It seems that people so commonly died of typhoid or gastric fever in those days that it took a very long time for the claims departments to get suspicious about all these painful deaths by vomiting. In fact they never did - she was eventually found out by a pharmacist. Mary Ann gets life insurance money for her dead children too, although the implication on ITV is that none of them were killed deliberately. The reality is more blurred.
If the TV series is to be believed, an awful lot of her children died before she discovered arsenic. Mary Ann's life was stuck in one long miserable cycle of pregnancy, birth and bereavement. Her first husband (and in fact every subsequent husband), as far as she was concerned, was a useless tosser. Particularly after she discovers sex with local bad boy Joe Nattrass. She moves on from town to town, job to job, husband to husband, but Nattrass remains a constant provider of pleasure and entertainment. (Until she bumps him off too.) I will never be able to look at the pier in Saltburn again. Let's not think about what might happen underneath the boardwalk, but last summer, the railings above had been brilliantly yarnbombed.
|Yarnbombing, and the view towards Mary Ann's family home|
The other main location shoot for Dark Angel was none other than our park at the end of our street. Filming was done over a few days in August 2015. Stupidly, I didn't take any pictures. We had our usual route to the reading cafe and play area blocked by television trucks, lighting rigs, bossy women with clipboards, and people in Victorian costume pushing prams and carrying parasols.
|The same pergolas in flood|
Dark Angel was silly, sexed up, contrived, tended to state the bleedin' obvious ("Keep back, lass, arsenic is POISONOUS!"), but nonetheless an entertaining yarn for a wintry Monday night.