This episode kept its space the same—a No. 9 flat belonging to feisty Christine Clarke (Sheridan Smith)—but time itself was more pliable; as we zipped through twelve holidays of a calendar year (Christmas, Mothers Day, Easter, Halloween, etc), but not in strict chronological order. "The 12 Days of Christine" was one of Inside No.9's more experimental and stimulating experiences, but one which wisely kept focus on Sheridan Smith's nuanced performance as a woman starting to feel like she's losing her mind.
"The 12 Days of Christine" was a weird puzzle to be solved by the viewer, but the trick in the writing was to try and deny any chance of success for the delight of a surprise ending that felt earned and logical. For the most part, I thought the script succeeded—as some of my malformed theories about why The Stranger (Reece Shearsmith) kept appearing—attempting to "snatch" Christine's son from his crib, or apparently pelting her home with eggs—were proven completely false. I was suspecting some kind of time-travel scenario—with the Stranger revealed as an adult Jack altering his own history, or Christine's jealous first boyfriend trying to breakup her recent marriage—somewhat encouraged by the fact Christine was seen operating an old-fashioned camcorder to film her son's first day at school. Was this episode set in the 1990s? It felt strange she wasn't using a smartphone to do that.
The actual explanation—spoiler alert!—was more simple and definitely more emotional, as it was revealed Christine was experiencing the fabled 'life flashing before your eyes', moments after a car accident. The "Stranger" was a contrite man caught up in the incident, who'd managed to rescue her son Jack form the wreckage, while the cracked eggs formed part of Christine's dislodged shopping on the front seat. There wasn't anything wrong with this explanation, per se, although it may have worked better had the crash been foreshadowed earlier—or did I miss something a re-watch would fix? Her boyfriend's choice of fireman fancy-dress in the very first scene? It just felt slightly out of the blue to introduce a car crash, rather than cleverly weave that into the story.
However, the sheer enjoyment of this instalment was found in the filmmaking tricks used to send viewers tumbling through Christine's chaotic life-story; and the central performance of Smith, who was wonderful throughout. By the time the beautiful "Con te partiro" was playing on the soundtrack, this had become an utterly heartbreaking episode. I don't think this Inside No.9 would've worked half as well without her in the lead. She was also ably supported by Tom Riley (as her boyfriend Adam), Stacy Liu (as her nerdy flatmate Fung), Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em's Michele Dotrice (as her mother), Downton Abbey's Paul Copley (as her father, who suffers from dementia), and Steve Pemberton (as Bobby, her gay best-friend).
One of the show's best, undoubtedly.
written by Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith • directed by Guillem Morales • 2 April 2015 • BBC2