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Erin Doherty as Becky Green in Chloe.Luke Varley/Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

As the whole world knows, we had a rash of dramas and documentaries this year about con artists. Fakeries big and small were the flavour of the first months of 2022. Most of the stories told were true. Now, sit back and enjoy a slice of fiction with more sizzle than any of those other stories.

Chloe (streams Amazon Prime Video) is newly arrived and one I’ve been wanting to see. It aired in Britain a few months back, a psychological thriller that entertained, shocked and awed audiences and reviewers. Prestige popcorn drama.

What’s so different about a drama that pokes around in the fake lives that are presented on Instagram? Well, the tone bristles with the kind of grim, acid humour that Killing Eve had in its early seasons. And the series features a dynamite performance from the central figure, who is in almost every frame of it.

Erin Doherty (she was Princess Anne in The Crown) plays that figure with the kind of blazing neurotic intensity that’s rarely seen. She’s Becky Green, a sullen young woman living in a council house in Bristol, taking care of her mom, who has dementia. Becky has resentment written all over her face, treats her mother with grudging chagrin and works a series of temporary office jobs. Her escape is studying the online life of one Chloe Fairbourne (Poppy Gilbert), who seems to have it all – a very cozy bourgeois existence.

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Thing is, Becky has a knack for asserting herself into situations where she doesn’t belong, setting up a fake identity and faking a cool demeanour. She does this with breathtaking ease, using snippets of conversation overheard at work, or what’s posted online, to present herself at a gallery opening or waltz into a yoga session at a posh health club. Watching her do this is half the fun of the series (six hour-long episodes), as she spins lies that usually succeed in getting her where she wants to be, as a charismatic figure who eventually ends up back home with her mom.

While she’s achieving all this, we get flashes of the malice behind her slick ability to fake it. She seems to genuinely loathe the people whose company she keeps in her fake identity. Those people are comfortably middle-class and involved in politics or the arts. All Becky has to do is wear a fabulous coat she’s stolen and they accept her as one of them. Then, inevitably, there’s a twist.

The Chloe whom Becky appears to worship from afar, dies. What happened? Well, the people around her say it was suicide and they regret they didn’t see it coming. Becky isn’t so sure and wants to know more. The second twist – this all happens in the first 40 minutes, so these are hardly spoilers – is that Becky may have known Chloe quite well at one point in her life.

What’s going on here is more multilayered than you might first imagine. Becky is a representative figure and bears no small resemblance to the iconic Becky Sharp in Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair – an orphan who coolly elbows her way to the top of a rich, vain, self-satisfied English society. What Chloe Fairbourne represent is that top of society and it is no accident that her surname resembles “fair-born.” Oh, what trickery is the creator of the series, Alice Seabright (who wrote and directed for Netflix’s Sex Education), cooking up here?

Chloe is a psychological thriller that follows Becky Green, who is obsessed with stalking her childhood friend Chloe Fairbourne’s (Poppy Gilbert) perfectly curated social media presence.York Tillyer/Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

You can ignore the literary connections if you like. Chloe as a series is gripping from the start and the tension involved in Becky’s ceaseless, cocky infiltration of Chloe’s world just gets raised higher and higher. That’s always part of the attraction with con artist stories – watching the figure pull off the scam. Here, mind you, the stakes are high, since the viewer, like Becky, is wondering how and why Chloe died.

Dwelling only on the surface you might write off this series as a riff on such thrillers as The Girl on the Train, with its apparently deluded central figure, all nosiness and resentment. But there’s more than surface here. One fine thread inserted into the plot is the existence of a character, a handsome, witty Black male, Josh (Brandon Micheal Hall), who is skeptically amused by Becky’s pushy, nervy exterior, and not really fooled. Why him? And, then there’s the constant presence of Erin Doherty, whose ability to convey the sheer poignant weirdness of Becky, is astounding.

This is one propulsively entertaining, admirably fresh, psychological thriller. Highly recommended and sharper than any con-game drama we saw earlier this year.

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