One of Us: Episode 1
Us Brits love murder. Whether it’s morning, noon or night, you can guarantee there’ll be a good murder mystery on telly. We just can’t get enough of them. But BBC One’s new drama One of Us that premiered earlier this evening isn’t your average murder mystery. To start with, in the first ten minutes we are told the identity of the killer. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a mystery; there’s an awful lot to be unearthed yet.
It’s the classic scenario: a couple wind up dead and we have to work out why. Only this time, part of the mystery has been solved for us. Two families, the Douglas’ and the Elliot’s, living in the remote Scottish highlands are struck by tragedy when the youngest child of each are brutally murdered. The couple had been together since childhood and were killed hours after arriving home from their honeymoon. Later in the episode, a suitably dramatic storm causes a car hurtling through the country to lose track of the road and crash leaving its driver stranded. As the Douglas’ and the Elliot’s quickly realise, that driver is the killer of their youngest children.
The families decide to house the injured killer in a farming cage within a macabre looking barn. The next morning (surprise surprise), he is dead. Lying with his throat slit in gruesome fashion, we’re left to ask “who dunnit?” As John Lynch addresses both the Douglas’ and the Elliot’s in a scene worthy of Agatha Christie, he informs the group that they’ll keep the police out of it as much as possible leaving the two families to work it out themselves.
What would you do? The man who killed someone you loved is at your mercy, what now? That’s exactly what writers Harry and Jack Williams want you to be asking. ‘What would you do?’ is a question central to this new drama; each turn of events encourages the viewer to pose the same question and, in doing so, open up a dialogue about justice and morality. If a character abides by your personal moral or ethical judgements then you’ll like them, if not then you’ll dislike them; and that’s another way in which One of Us is completely unique – it’s subjective.
The first episode serves largely as an introduction the massive web of characters that form the basis of One of Us. It is a heavily character based drama, and so it’s essential that the writers provide us with adequate information and backstories about each and every one of the suspects. Juliet Stevenson plays Louise Elliot, mother of one of the victims. It’s quite terrifying to watch a woman slowly break down (both mentally and physically), but in the circumstances it’s completely understandable. In fact, one could go as far as to say that this sort of grief could make a person do anything. Stevenson gives a performance so tremendously believable as Louise that the viewer would forgive her for (almost) anything.
Along with Juliet Stevenson, the casting is superb. John Lynch plays the formidable Bill Douglas whom everyone, including his own son, seems to fear. Joanna Vanderham plays Clare Elliot, the anxious do-gooder who seems almost too good to be true. Julie Graham plays Moira Douglas, a character we hear little about in the first episode but is immediately a favourite.
Writers Harry and Jack Williams made their names in 2014 with the superb drama The Missing but really establish themselves as masters of mystery in One of Us. In the first episode alone, the pair have us questioning what we know and there are still three episodes remaining! Harry and Jack said in an interview that their goal was to investigate “what tragedy does to human relationships” (a similar aim of The Missing) and this show seems to succeed in doing that. The series is beautifully directed by William McGregor who employs a variety of techniques to enhance the tension. Pathetic Fallacy is one such technique that is employed frequently in One of Us. Being set in Scotland, there’s bound to be rain, but the chilling palette of greys and blues that form the backdrop of the entire first episode gives the series a bit of a Scandi-noir feel. That feeling is only accentuated with the constant emotion and tragedy that runs throughout.
There’s been a gap in the viewing schedule for a series like this, and One of Us fits the bill perfectly. It’s mysterious, strange and, in some places, quite scary. After the first episode, the scene is set but we know very little of the ‘why’ factor. The identity of the killer’s killer is known only to himself/herself, but how long will that remain the case?
One of Us continues next Tuesday (30/08/16) at 9pm on BBC One.