One Of Us episode 1 review
From the writers of The Missing, new BBC psychological drama One Of Us fails to thrill despite a strong cast…
This review contains spoilers.
‘How far would you go to avenge the murder of someone you loved?’ That’s the question One Of Us wants us to ponder at the end of its first episode. ‘How much is a week’s self-catering break in a Highlands croft?’ was what it left me wondering. Those rolling landscapes were stunning, even if the view was intermittently spoiled by two grieving families and a dead man in a cage.
Set in a part of Scotland where the accent hadn’t caught on, One Of Us makes a better ad for the Highlands Tourist Board than it does a psychological drama. Episode one sped so quickly towards its whodunit destination, it forgot to pack any characters for the trip.
There were people in it, of course: a shivering heroin addict, some parents, a cyber-stalker teen, a recovering alcoholic, a nurse, her brother, his girlfriend, a farm labourer, Ade Edmondson… But characters? Not yet. That’s a pity for talents like Joe Dempsie and Georgina Campbell, two actors who deserve better than ‘angry boyfriend’ and ‘rape survivor whose assault only features insofar as it makes her angry boyfriend angry’.
That thinly sketched group fared better than Adam and Grace, the sweet newlyweds stabbed to death by a burglar (while they watched their wedding video, for extra punch). Their murders served as the catalyst for the revenge drama that ensues.
Juliet Stevenson as bereaved mother Louise did convey real feeling, though largely when she was left alone to emote without being saddled with stagy dialogue. If this show has any sense, she’ll be revealed as the murderer.
Yes, the murderer. By the end of episode one, there’d been a muhduh. Another one. Adam and Grace’s killer made a beeline straight for their childhood homes to “finish something that [he’d] started” but wound up in a cage with his throat slit. Who was responsible? Why was he headed there? How far would you go to avenge… oh, we’ve already done that one.
It all feels like a waste of a good idea. A killer’s fate being put in the hands of his victims’ families? Marvellous stuff. Here are all the makings of a satisfying psychological thriller, a study in human morality, says One Of Us. And then, by offing the killer on night one, it all turns into a cheap game of Cluedo. Who killed Dr Black? Was it the teenager with the laptop in the ballroom? Or the angry young man with the elastic band around his wrist in the study?
What particularly irks about this episode is its lack of interest in grief as anything other than an engine of revenge. The families had scarcely a second to feel anything before they were dragged into this contrived guessing game. Each character also having their own individual morality debate (euthanise the old lady or not? Take revenge on your girlfriend’s rapist or not? Deal drugs to pay for your sick daughter’s operation or not?) makes the whole thing feel less like a recognisable human drama and more like a set of questions in an ethics-themed quiz. The story’s scaffolding was just too visible.
Great cast, great setting, great premise, but disappointingly clunky execution. TV dramas are often done a disservice by being tucked away on a weeknight in August, but this one feels right at home.