A crime drama revolving around the murders of young women is hardly new territory for ITV. Missing girls, pale bodies on slabs, crying mothers, dogged detectives and endless line-ups of shifty suspects are all rather familiar sights in the 9-10pm slot over on the third channel. And so it goes with their latest offering, A Confession.
There is one rather significant difference here, however. This six-part series is based on the very real disappearances and murders of Wiltshire natives Sian O’Callaghan and Becky Godden-Edwards, back in 2011. Thankfully for the families, the story is in more than capable hands. On writing duties is Jeff Pope, who won a BAFTA some 13 years ago for his scribing work on the outstanding Ian Brady and Myra Hindley drama, See No Evil: The Moors Murders.
There is a very matter-of-fact and down-to-earth approach to A Confession which brings a tangible gravity and realism to what we see on screen. Even despite our main character Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher being played by Sherlock, The Office and Black Panther star Martin Freeman, complete with all the Martin Freeman acting tics he brings to every role.
What’s strange about the series is that it’s structured in much the same way as other dramas of its kind like Broadchurch or The Bay. The information is drip fed to us all rather slowly. That’s fine with fictional pieces, it builds tension, but here it’s a little counter-intuitive. How much suspense can be built around a real-life case? Red herrings aren’t very convincing when a five second Googling on your phone can reveal every detail of the case, after all.
That said, early signs from A Confession episode 1 seems to suggest that we’re in for some low-key class here. The case is a fascinating one. You’ll find out why if you stick with the next five Monday nights on ITV1. So far we don’t even have a murder case, but it’s no spoiler to say that’s set to change next week. It’s also not a huge reveal to tell you that the case revolves around a confession from someone.
Freeman has chosen to underplay Fulcher, a smart move which allows the drama to unfold naturally and not remind you that you’re watching a show that could just as well be called Detective Bilbo Baggins.
Supporting the lead is an impressive cast that includes Cold Feet, Benidorm and Happy Valley‘s Siobhan Finneran. She plays Sian’s mother Elaine Pickford. This Country‘s Charlie Cooper is impressive in his first major dramatic role, featuring as Sian’s boyfriend Kevin. His Swindon burr would have been helpful during auditions, but this is no stunt casting: Cooper gives a fine performance here. The ever-brilliant Imelda Staunton helps round out the cast as the mother of missing sex worker Becky. Former EastEnder Joe Absolom is yet to appear, but plays Christopher Halliwell, a rather central figure to the story.
One hour in and it’s so far, so good. The camerawork is shaky in that old NYPD Blue kind of way. It’s supposed to convey authenticity, but it really just makes you feel slightly bilious. That’s our only critique so far, though.
This is gritty, serious drama. There’s no flair, there’s no great wit and there are no showy or eye-catching performances. A Confession is pared-down and basic. It’s mature television that may not feature many car chases or gun battles, but it does look set to tell an important and fascinating story with patience and solemnity.
We’ll confess, we’re looking forward to seeing how Pope and Freeman tell the story.
Did you watch A Confession episode 1? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below…