The first episode of BBC Scotland’s new four-part mystery drama One of Us packed in more twists than the A939 Cock Bridge to Tomintoul Road. This was an extremely promising opening packed with incident and characters who all seemed to have something to conceal.
Written by Harry and Jack Williams who previously gave the BBC a huge hit with The Missing, One of Us is another high end BBC drama tautly directed and edited, with beautifully photographed Scottish locations. Twist followed twist, setting up a terrible dilemma where seemingly decent folk are forced by circumstance into making rash and terrible decisions.
One of Us episode 1 began with grainy video footage of a child dressed as a knight at a village fete accompanied by a voice reminiscing about childhood romance that then revealed itself part of a groom’s wedding speech. This oblique pre-credits scene was seeded with small details that would attain greater significance in the following hour. The family video footage revealed not only the two children whose wedding we would see, but also two sets of parents – one of which was significantly absent from the wedding, while the other was captured off-guard looking less than happy with the event. These details were easy to forget when the scene ended by flashing forward to a grisly double – technically triple – murder which apparently revealed the killer immediately.
The ‘killer’, a junkie and petty thief, steals a car and sets out on the road during a storm. Like the character in The Doors’ song Riders on the Storm his brain is ‘squirming like a toad’. When he crashes the car, it just so happens to be next to the farmhouse owned by Louise Elliot (Juliet Stevenson), the mother of the murdered boy. This would seem like a colossal coincidence except that a scrap of paper is discovered on the unconscious man with their postcode scrawled on it. The postcode is shared with a neighbouring farm owned by the Douglas family. Whose daughter was the other victim.
The pre-publicity promised a crime drama that would be less focused on the murder, than on its effect on two families affected. This synopsis sounded interesting, but also potentially a little dry. I was expecting something sober, akin to Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice series, examining the effect of crime on a family. However, what One of Us appears to be, based on its first quarter, is actually a grisly update on an Agatha Christie set-up. A remote setting, a disparate set of characters – all with secrets – with a killer lurking in their number.
But how decent are they? There is a tension between the families over the marriage. The Elliot family is broken, with the missing father clearly not welcome. The pious Douglas family are distant from their own teenage son. The eldest son of the Elliot family (Game of Thrones and Skins actor Joe Dempsie) is constantly snapping a stress band, and is introduced stalking a man on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The Douglas family have a farm manager (Gary Lewis) who might have been a butler in a more period mystery. Finally there is an extremely compromised detective waiting in the wings to complicate matters.
One of Us promises to be a gripping psychological thriller, strong writing and instantly intriguing characters counterbalanced a plot that could have felt contrived in less skilled hands.
Did you tune for One of Us episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!