The fictional town of Polesford in Derbyshire – which serves as the setting for BBC1’s new drama In the Dark – appears to be experiencing a post-apocalyptic micro-climate. It has never rained this much anywhere ever. The rain is quite literally torrential. And it mostly falls down car windows. Because, you know, pathetic fallacy. Just in case there was one rain-droplet of doubt in your mind about the symbolism intended.
Polesford and its plentiful precipitation are the backdrop for a four-part adaptation of Mark Billingham’s series of crime-thriller novels. MyAnna Buring plays DI Helen Weeks, a detective who takes it upon herself to investigate the disappearance of two schoolgirls from her hometown, even though she’s technically on holiday. It turns out that the prime suspect is the husband of her childhood friend – and she’s convinced he’s innocent.
The drama is not without its merits, with an intriguing sub-plot that is actually quite gripping. Helen has secrets of her own. And I am much more interested in her dubious past than the murders themselves. Strange flashbacks to her childhood hint of a darker story. “Do you ever think about what happened all them years ago?” she asks Linda Bates, her old school pal who, significantly, was – not is – her best friend.
The appearance of Super Hans from Peep Show – aka Matt King – in the midst of all of this is also a welcome surprise, and potentially even the highlight of the hour. For In the Dark, he has transformed himself from a drug-addled musician who puts his cock inside watermelons to a forensic scientist who could be instrumental in solving a murder case. King, as always, speaks in a low growl and has ridiculous clothing and even more ridiculous hair – but he proves his versatility as an actor with this role.
This is in contrast to Emma Fryer who plays wife-of-the-suspect Linda. Fryer cut her teeth in comedy (PhoneShop, Ideal), and is still finding her feet in a more dramatic role. Her portrayal of Linda, a woman whose world is rocked by a false accusation, is overdone and the trembling lips and wide eyes feel unconvincing – more comedic than moving which makes it hard to invest in her character.
In the Dark’s script also struggles. There is an irritating overuse of the word “coppers” (“I’m a copper”/“That’s why coppers get together, isn’t it?”/“Copper, is he?”) and the dialogue is clumsily punctuated with dad jokes that aren’t funny, made mostly by the male characters and met each time with a grimace from Helen (and me).
But at the crux of the drama’s problems is the fact that the case uses the premise of violence against women as a mere plot device. We hardly see a glimpse of the victim’s families in episode one – instead all the airtime is given to the suspect and his loved ones. It’s possible to tell stories of violence against women responsibly – sexual or not: look at the last series of Broadchurch and Happy Valley, or the true-crime drama Three Girls. These series dealt with the reverberations of such crimes on a small community, rather than throwing them in as a catalyst to incite chaos.
Hopefully In the Dark will be a little less naff and delve a bit deeper next week… in better weather.