Brothers Jack and Harry Williams are best known to viewers for their spellbinding BBC thriller The Missing. But they’re known in the business as the writers most likely to get a script onto a screen — or in the rather panto terminology of the television industry, “get it away”. So it’s no surprise to see their new drama, One of Us, stride into primetime.
Stylish, moody, compulsive, a little bit Scandi, yet at the same time utterly British, from its Agatha-Christie-esque set-up — a small, two-family gang in remotest Scotland, one of whom must be a murderer — to its obsession with the weather, which, in episode one at least, is a character in its own right.
- Meet the cast of One of Us
- Meet One of Us star Joanna Vanderham: she’s had an Emmy nod and five hit TV shows at 25
- One of Us review: a clever, chilling and original thriller
The pair vie with one another to see who can look most awkward when given a compliment, but once that’s out of the way, they love to talk about the process. “Most shows that are bad,” Jack generalises, smiling but meaning it, “come from people underestimating an audience, thinking people won’t understand, that they’re stupid. You’re screwed if you do that. You have to assume the audience is brighter than you are.”
This is one of the first things you notice about One of Us— that it has elegantly avoided any clunky exposition that a real-life family would never say. This isn’t only their skill, Harry adds hastily. “We’re not unique or alone or the first to think that audiences are sophisticated and can understand complicated things. Television has changed. What’s possible has changed. Developers have become more trusting.”
This is partly, though not completely, driven by ambitious, epically long American dramas like Breaking Bad— “It was unbelievably good,” Harry says. “I still think about it most days.”
“I wouldn’t want to live in LA, though,” Jack says, “we’d be way too hot.”
“That’d be awful,” Harry agrees, “we’d be on a plane the whole time.” Jack shakes his head: “I’d be addicted to Valium.”
Their double act is an artful shambles — modest and funny — and it’s easy to see why they started off in comedy, writing Roman’s Empire and Honest.
“You never finish comedy,” says Harry. “You never felt like you’d done a day’s work. Because you were always waiting for the laugh."
“The thing is,” Jack says, “we had each other’s laugh, and then the deafening silence of England...”
“And America,” deadpans Harry. “And sometimes America,” continues Jack. “We managed to disappoint on two continents.”
It was when they wrote The Missing that they really discovered their talent, although, they are careful to stress, quite by accident. But the drama didn’t meet universal approval — some found it exploitative, specifically of the Madeleine McCann story, but that’s a view they don’t accept.
“Maybe if we were trying to use [the abduction of a child] as a cheap shock, but that was never in our heads,” says Jack. Harry is more trenchant. “A dead body, a missing kid... if you handle these things glibly, wheeled on as a plot point in CSI, that’s not ideal. But is it morally wrong? No. Just don’t watch it, dude.”
One of Us is chilling in a different way, with its noir-ish atmosphere and its masterful ominousness. Just watch it, dude.
This article was originally published in Radio Times magazine in August 2016