I was quite looking forward to the latest in ITV’s long, long string of crime dramas, largely because it starred the delectable Tamsin Greig. I adored her in Black Books, but hadn’t seen much of her more recent comic turns, so the notion of seeing Greig flexing her ‘serious’ acting muscles was just too good to miss. Add to that the chance of seeing Spy’s leading man Darren Boyd returning to the dark, murky territory he explored to such able effect in another ITV offering, the superb Case Sensitive, as well as the divine Katherine Kelly (lately of Corrie and Mr Selfridge fame) and, well, I was practically drooling with anticipation.
Written by Debbie O’Malley and directed by Ed Bazalgette, The Guilty started off intriguingly enough, with footage of an apple-cheeked young boy, scootering his way happily round a typical suburban street. However, it wasn’t long before things took a darker turn. It emerged the boy, called Callum, subsequently vanished, never to be seen again. His mother, Claire (Kelly), goes from being bubbly and lively to a haunted, tortured soul, focused solely on finding her beloved boy. Her husband Daniel (Boyd) seems less resolute, and is left to look after their older son (who we discover as the episode unfolds is Claire’s stepson) while his wife busies herself with her campaign.
However, their carefully ordered world collapses when DCI Maggie Brand (Greig) knocks on their door to tell them the remains of a child have been found almost on their doorstep, and it’s more than likely the body is little Callum’s. The action slipped neatly back and forth between the present and past, as the events leading up to the lad’s disappearance were explored, revealing the web of secrets and lies that entangled the neighbours and friends inhabiting the seemingly ordinary street. What is Claire’s naive au pair trying to get her hands on for her shady boyfriend? Why does an older neighbour instantly look guilty when the boy’s remains are found? And why does nobody else spot (as I did, within five minutes) that all is not well in Claire and Daniel’s marriage?
At first glance, The Guilty isn’t bad viewing. The cast is top-notch and the story has plenty of legs, but what lets it down unforgivably is the speed at which events unfold. Some bigwig probably thinks it’s a genius idea to string out the tension and keep the audience hooked, but I found myself getting fidgety and bored. Had each morsel of drama not been quite so obvious, the supposedly subtle relationships between characters not been delivered with such hammer blows (not to mention the bleeding of colour from each shot after Callum’s disappearance), then we might have had more emotion to invest in what should be a tasty and satisfying drama. Most disappointing was Greig, who managed to stare into the middle distance and looked vaguely moody a fair bit, but little else. I kept willing her to do something, anything, to bring a little animation to her downbeat alter ego.
The comparisons to ITV’s mega-hit Broadchurch were inevitable, but The Guilty stands well on its own with a different type of story to tell. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, and subsequent instalments will crackle with electricity. I for one will definitely be keeping my fingers crossed that ITV hasn’t made a huge blunder by bringing together a superb cast – and then given them absolutely nothing to do.
The Guilty Continues Thursday’s at 9.00pm on ITV.
Contributed by Scheenagh Harrington