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!
Spoilers for One of Us episode 2 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 1 here.
Previously on One of Us: newlyweds Alex Elliot and Grace Douglas are murdered in their home. The apparent killer, a homeless junkie, steals a car and flees the city. As a storm lashes the west of Scotland, the fugitive crashes into a tree near the village of Braeston. In what appears to be a coincidence bigger than Ben Nevis, the injured man is taken in by a family who just so happen to be the Alex Elliot’s. Furthermore, Grace Douglas’ family live in the neighbouring farm, so close they share a postcode.
This is no coincidence. An envelope with the families’ postcode is found on the unconscious man and when a news report identifies him as a suspect in the murders the families move him into a cage in the Douglas’ cattle shed. Later that night he is murdered.
One Of Us episode 2 shifted the focus slightly onto the detectives investigating the killings. When CCTV footage is reported showing the fugitive in a filling station some 20 miles from Braeston, lead officer Juliet (Laura Fraser, who played Walter White’s European connection in season 5 of Breaking Bad) sets off with another detective to speak to the families.
Press have begun circling. Photographing the families together on the farm on the morning after the storm. This will have repercussions when Louise Elliot lies to detectives saying her family had stayed at home all night and the following morning.
Bill Douglas has troubles too. After farm manager, Alastair, tells his wife about the events she persuades him to take advantage of the situation and he makes a clumsy and somewhat shamefaced extortion attempt.
In London, Peter Elliot’s wife discovers him sobbing over a newspaper report of the murders, leading to a tearful confession about his other family. Later that night, Peter programmes his sat nav for Braeston. His arrival is unlikely to be greeted with joy by his former wife who tells anyone who will listen that they do not talk to him anymore.
One of Us packed twists into its first episode like a Jack-in-the-box, but a few should have been left over for this overly leisurely second episode. Despite providing more shading to the characters, there was a feeling that writers Harry and Jack Williams were treading water. A drugs storyline involving Juliet supplying an Edinburgh dealer with LSD to finance an operation for her daughter is unfolding in a predictably tabloid direction. One hopes that there is more to this than the simple creation of an obstruction that will prevent the shift resolution of the case. The episode also introduced the wonderful Scottish actress Kate Dickie but gave her a small, shrewish Lady Macbeth part.
If episode one took a shocking B road, One Of Us episode two felt like it was travelling at a stolid 50mph in the middle lane of the motorway. There was sufficient material here to keep viewers hooked by the opening interested, but episode three will need to turn the screws significantly to keep hold of them.
Did you tune for One of Us episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Spoilers for One of Us episode 3 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 2 here.
The plot was getting thicker than cold porridge at the end last week’s episode of One of Us.
Whilst cleaning her house in a boozy bout of insomnia, Louise Elliot discovered a bloodstained knife in her son Rob’s room. This points to Rob being the killer of Lee Walsh, prime suspect in the murder of Louise’s son and Rob’s younger brother Adam and his wife Grace.
The episode closed on a cliffhanger as police arrived at the Edinburgh home of Rob and his wife Anna.
While episode 2 held these twists back until its final ten minutes, One Of Us episode 3 shifted up a gear. By the end you could stand a wooden spoon upright in this bowl of intrigue and oats. More tragedy was visited upon the Elliot and Douglas families. Suspicion over who killed Walsh was rife both from within and from outside the families. And even more secrets were revealed. All of this happened as the village of Braeston mourned Adam and Grace and prepared to bury them together.
Three episodes into a four episode story and One of Us has a lot of work to do in the concluding episode to pull together competing storylines. The series got off to an arresting beginning by introducing and then killing Adam and Grace before the credits. However, to maintain the mystery around the murders so much information about the victims has been held back that it is making it increasingly hard to care. Principal characters are all compromised to one degree or another and often difficult to root for. Even Claire Elliot, the most morally straight edged of the group, is open to covering up evidence to protect a family member.
How the Edinburgh drugs storyline involving the corrupt detective Juliet (although she seems to be in some denial about it) will tie into all this is not yet clear. But the revelation that the very middle class Juliet’s daughter was a school friend of a girl who plummeted to her death from an estate high-rise on the drugs seemed like an enormous stretch and one designed to bend the plot into a convenient shape.
Equally sketchy was the capability of sullen teenager Jamie Douglas to intercept text messages sent from Claire’s computer. A breezy and mumbled explanation from Jamie that he knows her password was unsatisfactory, failing in any way to explain how he was able to do this and how he would have had access to her passwords. The feeling of contrivance is exacerbated by the fact that the ‘boyfriend’ she is communicating plot crucial information with has never been seen except as a small photo on a laptop screen.
The series is scraping by on the strength of a talented cast – although Adrian Edmondson and Kate Dickie are completely wasted – and some very pretty and moody Scottish landscapes. Nevertheless, after three episodes narrative elements are not meshing together well, and the central murder mystery is being diluted by an overabundance of revelations.
Did you tune for One of Us episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Spoilers for One of Us episode 4 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 3 here.
In last week’s penultimate episode police converged on Braeston and the Elliot and Douglas families’ fog of lies hiding the killing of Lee Walsh evaporated like a Highland mist in the morning sun. As family members are being questioned, detective Juliet’s own house of cards is toppling as a dealer to whom she has sold LSD is arrested.
Among the families, there is confusion and suspicion. Rob Elliot falsely confesses to the murder, believing his wife Anna is the culprit. Bill Douglas’ Parkinson’s diagnosis has been revealed to his wife Moira, while her affair with their farm manager Alastair has yet to be revealed to Bill.
One of Us has been all about the secrets and lies within families, and how those secrets can corrode relationships and drive people to terrible acts. From the very title of the series, it has been clear that the reasons for the murder of newlywed Adam Elliot and Claire Douglas (and their unborn child) must be ‘in the family’. There was never any real doubt about the identity of the killer being Lee Walsh. But the motive for a homeless drug addict to kill the couple and then head straight to the rural homes of their families has been a mystery. One Of Us episode 4 provided definitive answers, with the ultimate twist further entwining the fates of the families, even as it destroyed relationships between them.
One of Us got off to a gripping start in episode 1 but has gradually got lost in a swamp of competing storylines. Despite being a good-looking series with high production values and a top tier cast, it hasn’t gelled on a story level. A secondary drugs and corruption story-line with detective Juliet was an irritating distraction from the main story of the two families and their shared tragedy. The competing plots never quite meshed together, leading to a final episode that wrapped up the real mystery fifteen minutes before the end and then had to resolve a second story-line that was frankly not very interesting. The ultimate revelation that explained Adam and Grace’s killing was one of those twists that even if you do not see it coming – and I did not – it still feels over familiar when it arrives.
The series also presented rather sour characters who were difficult to warm to. The closest to protagonists were Claire Elliot (Joanna Vanderham) and detective Juliet (Laura Fraser). Juliet’s relationship with her sick daughter was never warm enough to counter the revulsion caused by her corruption in dealing drugs – especially after the death of a child as a consequence of her actions. Claire may have been the ethical core of the Elliot and Douglas families, always trying to do the right thing, but she was also extremely quick to do the wrong thing when her nearest and dearest (mostly hothead brother Rob) were in trouble.
While it was ultimately rather unsatisfying, One of Us did give us a great performance from Northern Irish actor John Lynch as Bill Douglas. As the revelations of the concluding episode brought down the wall of righteousness the character had built around him, it was Lynch’s grounded performance that held the attention.
Did you tune for One of Us episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!