The Williams brothers – Harry and Jack – became ones to watch after their well-received and widely-viewed series from last year, The Missing, and they follow that up here with a short, sharp series of four episodes that gather together a very strong ensemble cast for a twisty-turny whodunit set in a remote Scottish village. One of Us feels likes it’s ushering in the autumn and winter season, especially now the Olympics is over and pillars of the autumn and winter schedule like The X Factor and Strictly loom on the horizon. It’s exciting that the new season’s gateways are to be opened by a crime drama, and thankfully, One Of Us doesn’t disappoint.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
One Of Us is high-concept stuff and its premise hooks you right from the very start. Thanks to an incredibly emotional opening montage we meet Grace and Adam, two childhood sweethearts who, we soon learn, are from two neighbouring families in a small, remote Scottish village. They have their whole lives ahead of them, but the montage – full of wedding videos and home movies – ends as the camera pulls away from their TV, the wedding video still playing, revealing Grace and Adam slain on the sofa, a man standing, shaking and horrified in the half-light, murder weapon in trembling hand.
Soon this man is heading towards the village where the two families live – the Elliotts and Douglases – the night after he seemingly committed the murder of their children. (I say seemingly because you never know with these things.) The night he’s deciding to travel out to the families (“I started it, I need to finish it,” he says to a friend) a storm rages and, sure enough, it smashes him off the road, near to the families’ homes. While they’re still coming to terms with the news that their children have been murdered, they rush out to drag the man away from the car wreck and take him in. But it’s not long until they realise – thanks to a TV news report – who he is, and they’re suddenly presented with a sickening moral choice: help the man who murdered their son or sibling, or let him rot and to meet ultimate justice.
It’s this stunning premise that makes it feel like a crime novel, and the fact that it’s only four episodes means that it travels at a terrific pace.
We meet the members of the two families, and each one has a slightly different reaction to this sudden presence in their homes. And this is the key point here – they’re face-to-face with a man (who committed a crime so heinous and against their children) in their homes. This home: a sanctuary; where their children grew up; where they guard their lives from the bleak outdoors; where love is all-pervading.
Suddenly these two families are thrust into noirland, their lives plunged into disarray and emotional chaos two times over.
All they know has been destroyed. Divorcee and matriarch of the Elliott family, Louise (Juliet Stevenson) is angry but stoic; her son Rob (Joe Dempsie) is angry and reckless; his partner Anna (Georgina Campbell) is pale with fear; Bill Douglas (John Lynch) is practical yet emotional; his wife Moira (Julie Graham) is apoplectic with rage and reveals her hatred of the Elliotts; and their teenage son Jamie (Christian Ortega) struggles to comprehend what’s going on. The character I most identified most with was Claire Elliott (Joanna Vanderham), who seemed to me to react to this whole mess with the most realism – a crushing sense of grief, but also conscientiously wanting to do the right thing, even though members of the two families weren’t as keen to help this man as she was.
In fact, we started to wonder why this man – this murderer – would want to go into the lions’ den. No sooner were we thinking this, the story flipped from a whydunit into a whodunit. The families decided to keep the patched-up but still critically wounded man in a dog cage in one the farm’s barns overnight so that he a) couldn’t escape, and b) could be kept safe from anyone wanting revenge. They awoke the next morning to find he had been murdered. Suddenly the fingers of suspicion pointed to each of them – every glance, every word from each of the family members became loaded. They started to bicker, they started to panic and their carefully constructed demeanours began to erode. We were now in single-location whodunit territory and it was thrilling stuff, especially as the families had to decide what to do next. They knew that one of them had to have carried out the murder, but now they had to figure out what to do with the body – do they get rid of it and put this down to justice? Do they forget this man ever visited them? Or do they, as Claire petitioned, go to the police?
Rob was being built up as the villain of the piece thanks to his aggressive behaviour, but we know that suspects will come and go during the piece as quick as we can blink. What’s interesting is that, unlike The Missing (which was told in the present and in flashback form), One Of Us is strictly a linear affair, which works much better for a whodunit.
There were other bits and pieces, with little side stories beginning to develop: investigating officer Juliet (Laura Fraser) had done some sort of deal with a drug dealer, there was a shifty farm hand who’s worth keeping an eye on, and Adrian Edmondson makes a brief appearance at the end of the episode as a man in English suburbia with some sort of connection to the whole story. Why, we do not know yet.
It seems every single character comes pre-loaded with secrets and every character is a potential suspect, even though they’re also the victims of a horrific crime. It’s an interesting premise, one bursting with moral ambiguity.
This could be a goodie.
For our interview with Harry and Jack Williams, go here
For our interview with Juliet Stevenson, go here