How Dolly Wells’s character in Inside Man became our unlikely favourite

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of BBC One’s Inside Man.

Early on in Inside Man, we realise that Janice Fife (played by Dolly Wells) is a woman not to be messed with. In the opening scene of the series, we meet investigative journalist Beth Davenport (Lydia West) on a crowded tube as she’s being harassed by a man who clearly doesn’t know what personal space is – or manners, to be honest.

The situation devolves into him forcing another passer-by to delete the image she took of him, which he then uses as the time to snatch her phone and tease her with it. It’s the kind of public transport harassment scenario that many women watching will sympathise with but then, like a shining beacon of light, Janice Fife appears. She blends in with the rest of the people on the carriage, and the way the scene is shot, it’s intentional that you miss her so that her introduction comes as more of a surprise.

She wields her phone like a weapon, stating that she’s recording the man on Facebook Live and informing any police watching as to his whereabouts. It sets off a cacophony of other women in the carriage stating that they are all filming the stranger also. A lesson in safety in numbers, if ever we needed one. Officers greet them on the next train platform and, just like that, Janice is underlined as one of the early heroes of the series. 

Dolly Wells and David Tennant as Janice Fife and Harry Watling in BBC’s Inside Man.

Beth is amazed by her actions – even more so by the fact that Janice was “bluffing” the whole time and actually wasn’t filming at all. She doesn’t even have Facebook on her phone. It’s clear from their initial reaction that Janice is quick-witted, smart and witty with her kind of dry humour.

Inside Man is, of course, a series concerned with multiple plotlines and characters so it’s easy to forget that Janice exists in the complicated story of the show. But sooner rather than later, we realise she’s actually a big player in the stakes of this drama.

In a bid to protect one of his parishioners, Harry Watling (David Tennant) lies and says that the USB in his home, the same USB that Janice is given, is his. But then Harry’s son Ben (Louis Oliver) says it is his. Confused yet? But Harry didn’t know what was on the USB, and the child pornography that Janice finds is enough to leave her with chills and a hell of a lot of questions.

While we know that Harry is merely trying to protect the identity of the real person involved, his plan unravels with the speed of light. He goes from trustworthy vicar to kidnapper in a matter of moments, and the whole affair descends (quite literally) with Janice being held in their cellar. 

Dolly Wells stars as maths tutor Janice Fife in BBC One’s Inside Man.

It doesn’t bear thinking about what we’d each do in this scenario if we were Janice – from maths tutor to being held hostage in a matter of moments – but she quickly surprises us all. 

Rather than sit and cry about her circumstances as many of us would, Janice uses the opportunity to hide all of the tools that could be used as weapons. But that’s not before using them to cut herself and leave blood (and her urine) around the enclosed space. Her logic? That if and when the police do come knocking, they’ll be left with an evidence-laden cellar that will clearly illustrate that Janice was kept there. Clever doesn’t even begin to explain Janice’s actions because, as well as being horrified at the turn of events, we can’t help but feel amazed at her thinking.

The tables quickly turn in the relationship dynamic between Harry and Janice and they don’t seem to stop revolving. In episode two, she plays off Harry and his wife Mary (Lydnsey Marshal) against each other subtly. Without going into too much detail, it’s her subtlety that leads to the pair sharing heated arguments. But it’s her continual pressure on them and enforced deadline of “tomorrow at 9pm” when her sister is expecting a Skype call with her, that really is the thing lingering in the dark corners of this story. Because, as Janice explains, it’s at that point that her friends and family will start to wonder where she is and will end up going to her home and finding her appointment diary that lists Harry’s house as her last known location.  

Previous episodes of Inside Man are available to stream on BBC iPlayer now.

While we don’t quite know where Inside Man is going or how it will end, it does manage to highlight how, in these tense kinds of moments, many of us can easily slip into the mindsight of someone we don’t quite recognise. Whether that be a criminal mastermind, a murderer or both, the characters in this star-studded series demonstrate it all. And if you tune in for one thing, it should be to see what totally mad, frightening or hilarious thing Janice does next.

Episode two of Inside Man airs tonight on BBC One at 9pm with the final two episodes airing next week. Previous episodes are available to stream on BBC iPlayer now. 

Images: BBC

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