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!