For me there’s no doubting that one of the best dramas of the last five years is The Killing, the Danish version of course not that dreary American remake, so when the director of the first three episodes calls your script the best he’s seen since The Killing you know you’re onto a good thing. The script that Birger Larsen is talking about is of one-off drama Murder written by Robert Jones who has plenty of experience of crime shows honing his craft on The Bill and Pie in the Sky before creating the BAFTA-award winning The Cops. To research his new drama Jones, along with producer Kath Mattock, spent months in the public galleries of courtrooms gathering real-life testimony that they could use for the programme.
The drama starts with Colleen (Karla Crome) crying in the bath, mascara running down her face as she talks directly to the camera about how her sister Erin (Lara Rossi) was killed. She talks of going into the local pub where the sisters met a former soldier Stefan (Joe Dempsie) who bought them both drinks before chatting up Erin and through her story she portrays Stefan as the killer. We then see events from Stefan’s point-of-view as he tells us he’s ‘done things’ but he didn’t murder Erin despite having her blood on his hands and being in possession of her purse at the time of the murder. The police initially see this as an open and shut case however when the barmaid at the pub Deena (Lauren Socha) comes forward with a video from her phone, showing Colleen attacking Erin with a pool ball, the sister is bought back in for questioning. The further interviews with Colleen reveal a very insular relationship between the two sisters whose mothers left when they were teenagers and who came out of care when Erin was legally allowed to act as Colleen’s guardian. It seemed that while Erin wanted to move out of the family home into a brand new house it seemed that Colleen was convinced that their mother would eventually return. As there are strong possibilities that either Stefan and Colleen, or perhaps both, murdered Erin the pair are both charged with the crime.
As the drama goes on we are introduced to two other central characters the first being DI Sheehy (Robert Pugh) the matter of fact copper who is in charge of the investigation and who gets a sense of people straight away. He recalls his interview with Colleen in great detail as the pair sit in silence he tells us that he can deal with that as he spends the majority of his weekends sitting with a fishing rod in his hands saying nothing at all. As the case rumbles on Colleen’s barrister Raglin (Stephen Dillane) appears on the scene he is presented right from the offset as slightly smarmy and intent on winning whether his client is innocent in or not and in that respect he’s the complete opposite from Sheehy. Some of the best scenes in Murder see Raglin in his hotel room preparing his opening remarks perfecting his big line ‘Sisters don’t kill Sisters’ something he intends to reiterate constantly during the trial. We later see Raglin shaken as new evidence is presented and once again we see how he tries to present this information in a way that will get Colleen off the hook and turn the finger of guilt Stefan’s way once again. While Murder is one of the dramas that lets the audience make their own mind up in terms of who the killer is it also rewards us with a definitive answer as we backtrack to see what actually happened in the final minutes of Erin’s life.
Those who watch The Killing knows that the audience are told which day of the investigation they are currently witnessing, with each episode more or less representing one day, and Murder employs a similar method however in the case of this programme the days are non-sequential. As Raglin says murder stops time as you try to make sense of everything that was going on prior to it happening and this is seen in the jump from Day 1 to Day 20 to Day 113 and finally to Day 148 before rewinding to Day 0 to see the murder in detail. The way that Murder is scripted and presented makes it immediately stand-out as the to-camera interviews are completely one-sided which gives you the impression that the characters are speaking directly to you. This series of monologues makes Murder seem almost like a grizzly version of Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads as the speeches are accompanied by still crime scene photos, CCTV footage as well as the video shot on Deena’s phone all of which makes the drama really stand out from the pack.
All four central performances are cracking with Dempsie once again playing a fairly intense role, as he did in Tuesday’s episode of Accused, as the morally ambiguous Stefan who had his leg blown off in Afghanistan and is currently looking forward to being the Godfather to his young nephew however he still has a violent temper. Crome, who was seen earlier in the year in Sky Atlantic’s Hit and Miss, is also able to play a multi-layered character as Colleen begins by playing the innocent sister but becomes scarier as she recounts various arguments she had with her sister about tattoos and pizzas so as the drama rolls on you’re not quite sure what to make of her. Veteran actors Pugh and Dillane also add a sense of gravitas to the piece with the former playing the salt-of-the-Earth policeman convinced of who committed the crime and the later playing the smooth barrister who is only briefly unsettled with the revelation of who was in the flat at the time of the murder. The fact that murder has a small cast, only nine actors in all, means that it doesn’t take too long to learn who everybody is and what their motives might be which in itself is a rarity in crime drama.
Overall Murder has a unique look to it due to the combination of monologues delivered to the audience, still photos and shaky camera footage all of which are used as evidence both by the police and us to decide on who committed the crime. The performances are excellent and every actor suits the character they play which is hard when a lot of the roles require the cast to change as the story continues. There is an intensity to Larsen’s direction which is as evident here as it was in The Killing while Jones’ script gives us enough time for us to decide who was guilty before actually showing us what occurred. I would go out on a limb then to say that this is possibly the best single drama of the year so far as I found little to fault throughout only that as the story only lasted for one episode we’re deprived of an entire series which is a real shame.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly Follow Matt on Twitter