BBC1 drama Rellik is told backwards – but it takes the genre forwards in leaps and bounds
Ben Dowell is impressed by Jack and Harry Williams’ brainy new series which finds Fortitude and Game of Thrones actor Richard Dormer on top form
A serial killer whose modus operandi is acid has been found and killed by a police marksman – so it’s case closed, right?
His fingerprints were discovered on one of the victims, he was smeared in blood and he had a history of violence and mental illness. The only terrible thing about his capture was the fact that the police shot him when he was reaching for his phone and not a gun.
The strange thing is that all this happens at the start of new BBC1 drama Rellik, an intriguing, extremely dark piece from the writing powerhouse of Jack and Harry Williams.
And if you thought their other BBC1 drama The Missing was a clever inversion of the form with its leaps in time, then you ain't seen nothing yet. Rellik is told backwards – showing the case's climax then spooling back, with a time signature telling us how far into the past we've lurched. Rellik is Killer spelled backwards. Geddit?
But it’s important to say from the outset that the narrative device of telling the story in this way isn’t a gimmick – and most importantly, it works.
The writers admit that it was a tall order – in fact they didn’t think it would work, even after the script was commissioned by the BBC. They were so anxious they toyed with the idea of handing it back.
But what they have produced is a very clever way of unpeeling a story. It's told in reverse but the momentum is forward, always forward and we’re constantly finding things out. Rather than going from cause to effect, as in a normal linear show, we go from effect to cause – and it's fascinating to behold.
Rellik also benefits from an excellent performance from Richard Dormer as lead investigator DCI Gabriel Markham in what may be his best work to date.
Scarred by an attack from the supposed killer, we’ll no doubt head back in time to find out how he got those horrific wounds (that the actor tells RadioTimes.com make him "look like Freddy Krueger") and what it means to be a victim of the crime that he is investigating.
When we first see him he has been having an affair with his colleague DI Elaine Shepard (Jodi Balfour) which his wife, Lisa, has discovered, There are hints that his Missus has not exactly been a model spouse herself, but he is told that he must end his own extra-marital liaison or he will lose his family.
It’s an emotional piece, not just a technical one, and the sense of mental torment is enhanced by the visual palette – rainy, dark, claustrophobic, and a constant a sense of being inside Markham’s head.
And it’s not a place Dormer especially relishes.
“He’s not a very nice person… he’s a narcissist," he tells RadioTimes.com. "The scarring in a way makes him start to look inward and discover who he is but before he took everything for granted. He’s a bit of a loose cannon. It’s a very emotional part.”
It was quite an ordeal wearing the mask, as the actor reveals here, and Dormer admits it limited his range of facial expressions. But such is the force of Dormer's performance that there’s no doubt we have a complicated, angry, interesting man on our hands.
And he's not the only one. There is an interesting array of supporting characters who may hold the key to unlocking the real truth of this – because it is still a whodunit even if the case has apparently been wrapped up.
Two men on the investigating team – Mike (Kieran Bew) and Asim (Reece Ritchie) have a fist fight and we soon make a rather intriguing discovery about their relationship.
Paul Rhys, an actor I have always admired, is fascinating as Patrick Barker, a successful management consultant who is clearly desperate from the outset and flees the country. Has he got anything to do with the crimes?
And I can’t wait to find out more from Paterson Joseph’s Isaac Taylor, the psychiatrist who treated the supposed killer.
But it’s not an easy ride. This is a pitch-black show that demands nerve and attention to detail. You really will have to watch every minute. I think I’ll be doing just that. And I'd urge you to do the same.
This article was originally published in September 2017