A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Since its UK launch back in November 2019, BritBox has managed to carve out a humble niche for itself in the competitive streaming market, but one area where it has fallen short of its rivals is original programming. Aside from a somewhat divisive Spitting Image revival late last year, the service has primarily focused on legacy content from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Certainly, there are some brilliant titles among that selection, but it doesn't excite in quite the same way as the onslaught of brand new content available elsewhere. Enter: The Beast Must Die.


This suspenseful thriller is BritBox's first original drama series and it's a very promising start to their upcoming slate. Based on the novel by Cecil Day-Lewis, also known by the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, The Beast Must Die follows Frances Cairns (Cush Jumbo) on a mission to get justice for an unspeakable crime. Three months earlier, her young son was killed in a hit-and-run on the Isle of Wight and the local police department has failed to make any progress in finding the perpetrator. Taking matters into her own hands, Frances tracks down the person she believes is responsible and sets about infiltrating his life, all the while plotting revenge for what he took from her.

Screenwriter Gaby Chiappe does an excellent job reeling you into this story from the outset, with a strong opening chapter that will keep a tight grip on your attention despite being largely setup for things to come. The mystery surrounding the late Marty Cairns is told with finesse, eking out details at just the right pace to tickle your curiosity; steady enough to maintain high levels of suspense, but not so gradual that it becomes frustrating or tedious. But there's also great sensitivity around this tragic turn of events, with the emotional trauma of grieving mother Frances being a key focus in the first two episodes.

After impressing last year in Channel 4's Deadwater Fell, this is another powerhouse turn from Cush Jumbo, whose performance is frequently heartbreaking but far from one-note. The aspect of Frances that leaves the biggest impression is her cunning and fierce determination to get answers, with viewers sure to be on tenterhooks as she dares to venture deeper into dangerous territory. There are occasional moments where her sleuthing is a little hard to believe, but it's easy to look past these instances due to how utterly compelling the character is.

Cush Jumbo in The Beast Must Die
Cush Jumbo in The Beast Must Die (BritBox) BritBox

By comparison, co-star Billy Howle (The Serpent) isn't quite as strong out of the gate as detective Nigel Strangeways, but you grow to appreciate his performance more as the series progresses. Having left a London-based position on the force following a traumatic incident, Strangeways is thrown into a very different kind of policing on the sleepy Isle of Wight and his adjustment makes for fascinating viewing. It isn't long before he's giving a second look to the Cairns case that was fumbled by his predecessor, bringing the parallels between he and Frances into view.

It's an investigation that leads to a dysfunctional rich family, which admittedly is a regularly tapped resource in the drama genre, but The Beast Must Die utilises it very well indeed. Unsurprisingly, Jared Harris (Chernobyl) is excellent as the selfish patriarch, proving to be a particularly strong sparring partner with Jumbo. But praise must also go to standouts Geraldine James and Maeve Dermody as polar opposites Joy and Violet; the former is a delightfully unpleasant presence with an acid tongue, while the latter is instantly endearing in a role that emanates vulnerability.

The Beast Must Die cast

These clashing personalities create a highly uneasy atmosphere that is elevated by the superb score form Matthew Herbert, which wouldn't feel out of place in a horror movie. There's something strange and unsettling about his arrangements, mixing traditional instruments with almost otherworldly sounds. Certain locales incorporate environmental noises to great effect, particularly Strangeways' unloved office, which is cursed with the persistent blaring of horns from boats sailing around the nearby coast. There's no risk of getting comfortable.

The Beast Must Die does a lot right in these opening two episodes, introducing an intriguing mystery and stellar ensemble led by the brilliant Cush Jumbo as Frances Cairns. It's an emotionally charged story populated by complex characters, some of whom your heart will ache for, while others you'll simply love to loathe. If the show can keep up this momentum moving into its second half, it might justify a BritBox subscription all on its own.

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The Beast Must Die premieres exclusively on BritBox UK on Thursday 27th May. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.