Good drama has suspense, tension, smart pacing, top drawer performances and believable, relatable characters. To really stand out from the crowd as excellent drama, however – it needs something else. It needs a point. Film and television that stays with you usually touches on themes and ideas that make you think. The Victim does just that.
Airing across four nights this week, Monday to Thursday, this BBC One series leads us into something of a moral maze. It presents us with a supposed case of mistaken identity and poses us questions over the ethics of vigilantism and revenge, asking us how we might deal with a truly life-shattering traumatic event. All while presenting one central poser…
Who really is ‘The Victim’?
We open in the High Court of Edinburgh. It’s the first day of a case. There’s a plaintiff, the facially scarred and frightened figure of Craig Myers, played by James Harkness (Darkest Hour, In Plain Sight) and a defendant – the grieving mother of a murdered boy – Anna Dean (the tremendously steely-eyed and defiant-looking Kelly MacDonald – Boardwalk Empire, Trainspotting). Soon, we discover why they’re both there…
Bus driver Myers returns to his Port Glasgow home one night to discover his daughter dead, her throat slit. Thankfully, it’s merely a Halloween stunt and the wee girl hasn’t really been slaughtered like a farmyard pig. Not that such a crime would be out of place on television these days; child murders and sliced necks are par for the course these days.
As such, we soon learn that a child murder is actually focal to the plot. Myers is viciously attacked in his home and left for dead. As he recovers in hospital, DI Steve Grover (Sliding Doors, Rebus) reveals to Myers’ wife Rebecca (Under the Dome) that a post on social media has outed Myers – rightly or wrongly – as one Eddie J Turner, an infamous local man who, when he was 13 years old, tortured and killed a nine-year-old boy before serving his time and having his identity changed. That boy? Anna Dean’s son, Liam.
It’s soon revealed that Myers is not, in fact, Turner. At least not according to police files, anyway. But Anna – who it transpires may well have organised the attack – is not convinced. And, judging by the preview of episode 2, nor will we be soon enough.
And so we’re brought to the crux of the matter. Is Craig the victim? Is Liam? Is Anna? Does vengeance, hatred and violence end up making victims of us all?
Grover, for his part, seems like an honest cop. Frustrated at his superiors’ determination to sweep the case under the carpet, he appears to be an old school police type who just wants to see justice. But those old school inclinations may just extend to his attitude to women, as well. He’s on a secondment in Inverclyde for as-yet-unexplored reasons and is seen at one point harassing a woman he knows (who very quickly reminds him that ‘no means no’). Cathy could well be another victim of sorts.
There are a few supporting characters who stick out as potential suspects, but we’ll explore those in future reviews of this atmospheric and clever thriller.
Nothing – and nobody – is quite what they seem here.
This high calibre series is well researched and cleverly written by its creator Rob Williams (Chasing Shadows, The Man in the High Castle). Williams avoids easy caricatures, providing us with a cast of characters that all seem rather credible – if not all entirely likable at this early stage.
The Victim echoes, to a certain extent, the story of Robert Venables, one of Jamie Bulger’s killers, so that should give us a clue as to the tone of the piece. This is serious drama that asks serious questions about our own attitudes to law, order, rehabilitation, internet shaming and the repercussions of all of them. And, so far at least, it’s excellent.
Did you tune in for The Victim episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
Ah, second episodes… Like those much-fabled ‘difficult second albums’ you hear about on BBC Four music documentaries, they can sometimes be a bit of a struggle. Tuesday night’s follow-up to the previous evening’s barnstorming opener of The Victim was, as you can tell from our introduction, ever-so-slightly disappointing.
There was nothing shockingly awful about it, by any means. This wasn’t the TV equivalent of The Second Coming by The Stone Roses or anything quite that bad. It just kind of plodded along, adding very little to the debut episode, presenting itself almost like a hour of drama that couldn’t quite remember what it had laid out to its audience the evening prior.
Showing across four nights this week, this legal drama has a clever premise… A man is accused of being an infamous child killer and is viciously attacked in his home because of it. The mother of the murdered boy goes on trial for apparently facilitating the assault. Is she responsible? Is the victim really who he says he is? And who – crucially – is the real victim…?
Craig Myers’ true identity was very much the focus throughout here. We discovered that it was a private investigator called Mo (Pooky Quesnel, Thief Takers) that leaked Myers’ details to Anna, after she received a tip-off from a fairly unreliable ‘screw’ at the local prison. The slow burn of Craig’s partner Rebecca (Karla Crome, Misfits) questioning Craig and his past continued. But, as with the rest of Tuesday night’s ‘action’, we didn’t really learn a whole lot more than already knew.
The stand-out performance here so far comes from relative newcomer, James Harkness. Kelly MacDonald plays her part with conviction, but it’s Harkness’ portrayal of Craig Myers that really shines. He lets just enough out to really keep us guessing… Is he a victim of circumstance and bad luck? Or is he, in fact, Eddie J Turner reborn? At this halfway stage, few viewers would be prepared to bet their house either way.
Are there other candidates for who Eddie J Turner might be? Well, he could just be a red herring, but there’s Danny Callaghan (Andrew Rothney), the rather intense boyfriend of Anna’s law student daughter Louise (Isis Hainsworth). He certainly seems fond of his mother-in-law, admitted knowing about the Turner case and even went to school with the murdered boy.
Then there’s Craig’s friend Tom (John Scougall), a loveable rogue type that seems just a little too invested in the case and interested in what’s going on.
There was a tiny amount of plot development concerning John Hannah’s DI Steven Grover. We discovered that his secondment to Inverclyde was related to ‘allegations’, presumably of a harassing nature. Which would make sense, given the overarching theme of The Victim appears to be how damaging gossip and – perhaps – unfounded accusations can be.
This second instalment meandered more than just a tad. So we’re very much hoping for a return to form in episodes 3 and 4, recapturing the tension and drama of Monday night’s launch. There’s more than enough to the story and characters to suggest that it will.
Did you tune in for The Victim episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
That’s more like it. After an intriguing start, BBC One’s thriller-across-four-nights The Victim almost slowed down to a complete standstill in Tuesday night’s second episode. Thankfully here, in its third instalment, it revved back up and put the pedal back down to the metal.
Have we found out who Eddie J Turner really is? The final scene here seemed to suggest that we have. Although there may well prove to another reason why Craig Myers’ shifty lothario pal Tom (John Scougall, Unforgotten) met up with Turner’s social worker, fingers certainly seem to be pointing to the fringey friend of Myers at this point.
Playing Craig, James Harkness continues to impress. There’s a scene here where, after yet another threat is made against his family, his partner Rebecca tells him she’s leaving him and taking their daughter with her. Harkness’ reaction – and tears – are genuinely moving. This has been a truly affecting performance from the the 29-year-old Glaswegian; the man has a big future ahead of him.
This third episode was all about Kelly MacDonald’s acting chops, though. Part of what makes this such a standout series is the fundamental question it raises about how society expects a victim to act. McDonald’s Anna Dean is a fundamentally unlikeable character. A bitter presence, she oozes resentment and simply cannot let go of the past. Her hatred is beyond toxic and has poisoned her entire life. It’s twisted her and made her – ironically – really quite unsympathetic.
She’s still a victim, though.
Investigating officer DI Grover (John Hannah) feels like a victim too. He has his own accused victim, a former sex worker called Cathy with whom he became attached. She claims he harassed her, he denies it. This feeling of aggrievement seems to motivate his character. That’s why he’s been so keen to prove that Anna Dean has targeted Craig so unfairly. In fact, so keen is he that he rather forcefully interrogated the drug-addicted patient of Anna’s that he suspects of carrying out the attack on Craig.
Before the episode’s big final reveal, there’s a mini shocker unveiled. That tall, slightly shifty older boyfriend of Anna’s daughter Louise, it turns out, has good reason to be shifty. Only we discover that Danny Callaghan (Andrew Rothney, Shetland) has intentionally ingratiated himself into the household to be close to the family on purpose. He has an unhealthy obsession with them because… It was him that discovered Liam’s body all those years ago.
It’s impossible with these twisting and turning thrillers not to cook up your own theory, isn’t it? We’re currently simmering an idea that Craig Myers really is Eddie J Turner, but that he didn’t actually kill Liam. He went to prison for the crime and was assigned a new identity, but was the fall guy for someone who got away with the murder. Perhaps Tom? Or, more likely, Danny.
Making Craig yet another victim…
Whatever the resolution of this classy drama is, we’re looking forward to it.
Did you tune in for The Victim episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rūmī
It’s not often that we get to start our TV reviews with quotes from 13th century Persian poets, but then it’s not often that the dramas we cover end by quoting 13th century Persian poets. A bit pretentious? Perhaps. But flashing up on our screens after what was an incredibly powerful final fifteen minute scene, it felt well placed. What we had seen was deeply moving and thought-provoking drama of the most affecting kind.
We had been confronted with a series of ethical posers surrounding the notions of justice, hatred, revenge, guilt, blame and the idea of forgiveness. It was a lot to process.
The extended final scene of this four-part crime/legal/moral thriller was everything: gripping, tense, touching, unpredictable. It saw a face-off between The Victim’s two principal characters, Kelly McDonald’s hate-driven grieving mother Anna Dean and James Harkness’ Craig Myers/Eddie J Turner…
Oh, yes. We should probably get to that. Craig was Turner. He did kill Anna’s son Liam all those years ago. It all comes out during the climactic quarter of an hour which simply demands your attention. As the two sit opposite sit each other, on upturned milk crates under an underpass – in a staged repeat of an earlier aborted restorative justice meeting – we were treated to a true acting masterclass on both sides.
In truth, the episode up until then had lacked spark and kind of limped along for three quarters of an hour. There was a feeling – as with episode 2 – that this was a fascinating and vital story, just not one that quite justified its running time. A two-parter would probably have suited The Victim better. It would’ve been a tight, lean and much more impactful series.
Not that we wouldn’t recommend it. Its skillful way of handling tricky themes showed remarkable restraint and maturity. It never felt preachy and managed that rare feat of keeping us guessing while never once feeling cheap or hokey.
Suspects were presented and alternative paths laid out, each of which received their own satisfying explanations and conclusions. Danny wasn’t quite as creepy as he seemed. It was young drug addict William who attacked Craig. Tom really was a good friend of Craig’s. And DI Grover was, well, he was suspended. But he was hardly beyond reproach, was he?
We left The Victim with Anna stepping in front of Craig/Eddie to stop her ex-husband Christian from attacking him with a kitchen knife. It showed at least an indication that she could begin to forgive, if not forget her son’s brutal murder. Whereas Craig would probably never get over what he had done and never shake the guilt.
It wasn’t a field where the two explored their wrongdoing and rightdoing, it was an underpass. But that’s where they met. And in doing so, created perhaps the most dramatic scene we’ll watch on television this year.
Did you watch The Victim episode 4? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!