Murder is one of the most original British dramas ever

In this spoiler-free preview of the new series, Ben Dowell examines why this face-to-camera drama is both gripping and groundbreaking

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Murder is back on BBC2. After a one-off drama that aired in 2012, it’s returning for a three-episode run. And thank goodness for that. Its blunt one-word title may suggest yet another police procedural but for my money it is one of the most original shows on British TV in recent years.

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And it’s not just me. Ask the 2013 Bafta jury who awarded the first film the best single drama award, over shows such as Richard II starring Ben Whishaw and The Girl, the Alfred Hitchcock drama starring Toby Jones.

Murder, as they concluded, is a drama like no other.

In the first 2012 film (still referred to as the pilot) writer Robert Jones told the grisly story of the violent death of a young woman in a Nottingham flat via a particularly bold conceit: all the protagonists engage in monologues to camera giving their version of what happened on the night as the investigation proceeds from arrest to court hearing to verdict.

In The Third Voice, the first of three new films, the same techniques are used as the scriptwriter heads for the Borders of Scotland (the production team are keen to take it to as many diverse places as possible around the country). It’s a fishing trip with Leo (Peter McDonald, below) and his brother in law Rafe Carey (Frank Gilhooley) that goes terribly wrong. For Rafe anyway. His body is found washed up bearing an apparent stab wound.

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We soon learn that Rafe was the man who was looking after Leo’s daughter when she died of meningitis.

Did Leo’s grief drive him to plunge a blade into his wife’s brother? And how does Frankie, the disaffected young man who was being looked after by Leo’s social worker wife, fit into the picture?

I won’t say any more, except that it is gripping viewing.

So why is it so good?

Well, for one thing, Birger Larsen, the Scandi Noir master, is back at the helm and his film is a beautiful watch.

Larsen, let us not forget, directed the first three, unforgettable, episodes of The Killing series one, moments of drama which were highly accomplished examinations of grief. He is brilliant with actors, and at capturing the sorrow and fury of the main protagonists. Just watch the performance of Morven Christie tonight whose investigating officer DS Evans is another study in anguish, anger and determination.

Another great thing about Murder is the way it tells a very plausible case with astonishing realism.

Each character is presented directly, talking to camera, as if a layer of protection has been peeled away from them. But there are also scenes that do not involve face-to-camera monologues – where the characters are going about their day-to-day activity as if unaware. 

And when the characters directly address the camera unadorned there is a sense that we are peering into their souls. And if you think that’s too fanciful a notion, Larsen apparently instructed his cast to speak as if they are talking to God – or a higher being of some sort, but one where any lie you tell you are telling yourself.

It all amounts to a nuanced and brilliant examination of the elusive quality of truth.The testimony of the protagonists are never dull and feel as if they have been extruded from real life.

No wonder Peter Bowles told a press screening that it was the best script he had ever received. The To the Manor Born star is in the second film next week, one which takes us from the borders fishing trip to a death in high society Belgravia. I can’t wait. 

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Murder begins tonight, BBC2, at 9pm