The Nest review: Martin Compston and Sophie Rundle shine in surrogacy thriller

BAFTA-winning screenwriter Nicole Taylor (Three Girls) has penned a gripping drama that taps into the fundamental urge to start a family - whatever the cost

The Nest

In an upside-down world where people are now weighing up what’s most important in their lives, what could be more timely than a drama about one of humankind’s most fundamental urges: the desire for a child of one’s own? 

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It’s precisely that urge that BAFTA-winning writer Nicole Taylor (Three Girls) taps into in her gripping new drama series The Nest, a five-part surrogacy thriller starring Line of Duty’s Martin Compston and Gentleman Jack’s Sophie Rundle as a wealthy couple in Glasgow who seem to have everything they could want – except for a child. 

Compston plays Dan, a local bad boy made good who now “owns half of Glasgow”. For Line of Duty fans, hearing Compston’s real accent may prove a shock, and it’s clear that Taylor (who wrote the part with him in mind) is having fun subverting those viewers’ expectations – his first lines are him suggesting traditional Scottish baby names, Gordon and Hamish, for their future “wean”. 

At the beginning of episode one, Dan and his music teacher wife, Emily (Rundle), are expecting via a surrogate, after years of trying to get pregnant themselves. A scene early on in the episode sees Dan preparing to pick up his young nephews and take them to see the newly-unveiled sports stadium he’s helped pay for – as Emily reminds him about the boys’ rugby practise, the couple could almost be parents already, talking about their own children.

Emily is often painted in a maternal light like this – at one point she’s seen offering words of encouragement to teenage students at her prestigious Scottish music school. 

However, the couple’s hopes of starting a family of their own are dashed when their surrogate, Dan’s sister Hilary (played by Fiona Bell), suffers a miscarriage. With only one frozen embryo left, they’re unsure how or whether to proceed, particularly after Hilary says she doesn’t want to be their surrogate a second time. 

Enter Kaya (Sex Education’s Mirren Mack), a troubled 18-year-old who grew up in a children’s home and who’s still visited weekly by social workers. She and Emily meet during the first scenes of episode one, when Kaya steps out in front of Emily’s car and injures her leg. When she learns about Emily and Dan’s struggles to conceive, she gets back in touch with Emily to offer herself as a womb for hire (with steep terms). 

Despite Dan’s perfectly reasonable anxieties about Kaya, Emily becomes more and more convinced that her meeting with the young woman was “meant to be” – and that Kaya is meant to carry their child.

Rundle is wonderful as the grieving, blindsided Emily, refusing to admit defeat, while Compston hits just the right balance between portraying a doting husband, and the promise of something darker and more ruthless – after all, do we really know how Dan made all that money, given the shadowy people he keeps on speed dial? 

Some of the show’s plotlines and future reveals are obvious right from the get-go, but perhaps that’s the point – we’re watching a desperate couple walking into what appears to be a trap of their own making.

Besides, the acting is good, and the back-drops are especially beautiful and enviable, in particular the couple’s gorgeous house on the Rosneath peninsula, with huge glass walls overlooking the water. For those self-isolating at the moment, one can only imagine working from home – and wild swimming in the mornings, as Emily does – in such a picturesque spot. 

The soundtrack is also great – for those wondering, the choral song that plays at the start and end of episode one is ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, based on the Scottish poet Robert Burn’s poem of the same name, which promises “dark despair” for two lovers.

From the first episode, it abundantly seems clear that Dan, Emily and Kaya are all set on a path towards self-destruction. Moving ahead, however, what’s unclear is who exactly is being exploited – the rich but unhappy couple, or the entrepreneurial but vulnerable teenager? That’s the question that will keep us talking – and watching. 

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The Nest begins on Sunday 22nd March at 9pm on BBC One. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.