Murder is a no-frills title for a no-frills drama. It’s visceral and feels like grit has entered your bloodstream, cutting and scraping through your veins. I realise this isn’t an attractive image, but then no one was ever going to say to their friends, “Hey, come to ours for a barbecue on Sunday night, we can eat burgers, open a wine box and settle down to watch a ruthlessly compelling dissection of the brutal killing of a young woman. Maybe we can have a game of Twister afterwards.”
No one will go to bed on Sunday night singing after Murder, yet another BBC2 triumph, written by Robert Jones (who also wrote The Cops, one of my favourite TV drama series ever, and the tough, Bafta award-winning prison drama Buried). You’ll probably even stare into space for a little while afterwards. I did; in fact, it stayed with me for days, dammit. Every brittle little shard of it, thanks largely to one of the most astounding, affecting acting performances I have ever seen, from rising star Karla Crome (Hit & Miss, Misfits) as Coleen, the victim’s sister. I hope you will find that Murder wakes up dormant bits of your brain with its rawness, like drinking neat gin straight from the freezer.
I watched it first in a cinema, at a press screening, something I don’t do very often as such a huge screen inevitably distorts and aggrandises something that is made for the smallness of television. I was in a room full of critics, all of them toughnuts, but as the final credits rolled we were all mute with shock and admiration.
Watching Murder again on a television, I found it even more overwhelming, because of the enforced intimacy. Just me, eavesdropping on tiny, squalid spaces – a grubby flat where a young woman, Erin, is beaten to death, and the murder suspects’ cells. Everyone involved talks directly to the camera, a tactic that in lesser hands would be gimmicky, but here demands attention.
It’s directed, in his British debut, by Birger Larsen, known over here for directing a handful of episodes in the first series of the original Danish drama Forbrydelsen (The Killing), and it bears the “Scandi noir” hallmarks we can all recognise – though this is very much not simply a case of swapping the mean streets of Copenhagen for those of Nottingham, where Murder is set. The direction is full of jagged edges and none of it is comfortable.
I am not saying any of this to put you off. Quite the opposite. Murder is so good I want everyone to watch it. They probably won’t and will be beguiled by George Gently pottering around 1960s Durham over on BBC1 and not be in the mood to change channels. Which is absolutely fine. But record Murder and come to it later, when you are in a mood to watch and to think, at a time when you won’t be afraid to feel sad.