Requiem episode one review: unsettling winter chiller gets off to an impressively spooky start

Kris Mrksa's story starring Lydia Wilson is a drama with a difference – a missing child procedural with a spooky and supernatural twist. Ben Dowell is hooked...

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 22/01/2018 - Programme Name: Requiem - TX: n/a - Episode: Requiem - Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows: +++Embargoed until Monday January 22nd, 2018+++ Matilda (LYDIA WILSON), Aron (RICHARD HARRINGTON), Rose (CLAIRE RUSHBROOK) - (C) New Pictures - Photographer: Simon Ridgway

Sheesh, that was scary. Requiem is a drama quite unlike any other – a missing child saga with a horror twist. It’s a genre mash up that works very well, and will, I think, send a shiver up the spine of even the most fearless viewer.

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Yes, for a stylish winter chiller look no further than the strange and bizarre life of Matilda Gray (Lydia Wilson), an accomplished cellist, boozer and smoker with an extremely rickety private life. But waking up to find inappropriate strangers cooking semi-naked in her kitchen isn’t actually the source of her problems. Her woes really start when she is about to go on stage at the Royal Festival Hall and her mother Janice (Joanna Scanlan) appears at the stage door in what seems like a trance.

Matilda is spooked enough to follow her normally garrulous Ma (who has been stunned into silence) before the pair end up in an underground car park where Janice slits her own throat. Yes, right in front of her daughter, she takes a carving knife out and slashes her jugular in one clean motion.

It’s a grim watch, made all the more unpleasant by the sound effects – chilling whispers and eerie music.

It’s called Requiem, the name for the Church’s Mass for the dead, and Matilda is a musician specialising in that most mournful of instruments, the cello. This show seems to be some kind of hymn to the underworld, the deceased, the forgotten, those who are driven to the abyss. Though quite exactly what’s going on is still a total mystery to me after episode one. I have no idea, not even approximate guesswork, about where precisely this drama is headed, which is usually a good sign. All I can say is that it’s as intriguing as it is eerie.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 22/01/2018 - Programme Name: Requiem - TX: n/a - Episode: Requiem - Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows: +++Embargoed until Monday January 22nd, 2018+++ Matilda (LYDIA WILSON) - (C) New Pictures - Photographer: Adrian Rogers

Anyway, this opening horror seems to lead back to remote Wales and a small village community coping with its own bereavement – the mysterious disappearance of a young girl called Carys.

Matilda, her face swollen and raw with grief, finds a box in her mother’s possessions which leads her to travel there – accompanied by her friend Hal (Joel Fine) who seems to be very obviously in love with her.

At this point, we have already seen an elderly man called Ewan Dean, the owner of a large and spooky house, jump off the roof having been driven to this desperate act by the same horrible, whispering demonic force we hear when Janice is driven to self-slaughter.

The house has been bequeathed to an Aussie bloke called Nick Dean, the dashing great nephew of Ewan who makes puppy eyes at Matilda. There is a rather racy scene in which he clearly intends a double meaning in a line directed surely at her: “I could really use a ride”.

But laughs like this are inevitably a bit thin on the ground and our main protagonists all have bigger fish to fry, bigger demons (if that’s what they are) to conquer.

So what the hell is that horrible sounding thing that seems to appear in mirrors – and has so far driven two people to kill themselves? Does that selfsame house hold the key to the mysterious deaths – and Carys’s disappearance?

How does Matilda’s possessed Mum know where to find her? Is Matilda the victim – or some kind of perpetrator? Is Matilda in fact Carys, the missing girl?

All will resolve itself over the course of the next five episodes, of course, all of which are now available on iPlayer.

The only thing I can say for sure at this point is that episode one is rather frightening. And that it will probably get a lot scarier as we go on.

Programme Name: Requiem - TX: n/a - Episode: Requiem - Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows: Hal (JOEL FRY) - (C) New Pictures - Photographer: Adrian Rogers
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Requiem is on BBC1 on Friday nights with the whole series now available on the BBC iPlayer