I’ve really been engrossed in this four-part series, which has told the true stories of Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan who, after a lustrous and illicit affair, had staged the murders of their respective spouses to make them look as though they had undertaken a suicide pact. It has been brilliant so far; an intelligent and thoughtful exploration of an utterly heinous and sickening crime – one that still causes huge amounts of distress to those whose lives were altered by these two arrogant, selfish and deluded humans.
The first episode showed the first flushes of this internecine relationship; a kinetic fireball of lust created by an intense collision that fuelled an idea that they were meant to be together and nothing or no one could stand in their. Episode two saw the crimes themselves perpetrated in chilling detail and then, from there, we saw the consequences, and how guilt gnawed away at them both (in different ways) as they successfully rebuilt their lives with new partners.
For Colin, the death of his son had been a chastening moment and this event led to something extraordinary in this final episode. Still spouting religious epithets with wide-eyed zeal, he was convinced that the death of his son was God telling him that his sins were finally absolved and that now he could rebuild and make great wealth. He was on his way to madness, clearly, still absolutely obsessed with wealth and status.
His breakdown soon came. After trying his best to raise money for a crackpot scheme that involved Japanese war gold he came apart at the seams, realising, finally, that there was nowhere to hide. He sat at his kitchen table in front of his second wife Kyle and some church elders, his lips chapped by the briny coastal air, and confessed. To everything. Murder, financial ruin, fraud and historical sexual assault. It was an astonishing scene touchingly played by James Nesbitt, who I’m not normally a huge fan of.
This is what I’ve liked about The Secret. In so many crime dramas villains or killers are one-dimensional, often cartoonish in both their personalities and the reasons for their actions. Yes, Colin Howell was a despicable character, but he is still a human, and this scene reminded us of this fact.
And so to Hazel, who has been brilliantly played by Genevieve O’Reilly. And I mean brilliantly played – I don’t think I’ve seen a better, more nuanced performance from anyone in the last few years. What has been interesting about O’Reilly’s portrayal and the real character of Hazel Buchanan is the ambivalence and vulnerability she has shown on the surface, making her a sympathetic character, but the steeliness, and talent for manipulation that lies beneath. O’Reilly sometimes showed this camouflaged side with a telling flicker of eye contact. It was immensely skilled acting. Sometimes confident, sometimes coquettish, but also sometimes shy and happy to play the played, O’Reilly’s Hazel Buchanan was the perfect modern femme fatale in some ways – playing the victim, but always hinting that she was more control of things than she let on.
And this was the crux of Colin and Hazel’s relationship: they were both trying to control each other in different ways. Colin with his deluded, strident, self-assurance; Hazel with her measured, concealed manipulation. The power dynamics within their relationship and how they developed were utterly fascinating and compelling.
Colin said this on the witness stand, and I’m going to quote it because I can’t write it any better:
Control is a very complex thing. If I was controlling in one area, Hazel was controlling in another. It was a dance between control and manipulation. Two people waltzing together in time. I may have been the lead partner, but she was not dragging her feet. She was in step and in harmony. This was a completely mutual decision, as was the abortion – like a blood contract that Hazel and I had made secretly. A big secret. A strong bond. Which meant that when it came to a joint venture to kill Trevor and Lesley we had already signed a contract in blood that said it was ok to kill a human. Hazel wanted it and I facilitated it. If you look at the murders, I wanted it and Hazel facilitated it. So we were both waltzing in time. She was my full partner.
So The Secret had a bit of everything you want in a crime drama – lust, sex, murder, consequence, layers of human character exposed and, finally, punishment. It was also thoughtfully written and brilliantly directed. The fact that it was a true story made it even more of an engrossing tale and in the end, as the real pictures of Colin and Hazel’s victims – Lesley and Trevor – appeared on the screen, you were reminded once again of the tragedy at the heart of this sorry story.
For our episode one review, go here
For our episode two review, go here
For our episode three review, go here