Is Laura telling the truth about being raped? That’s the question at the centre of ITV’s tense new psychological thriller, Liar, from the writers of The Missing.
But it’s a question that needs to be handled with extreme caution, because a storyline about a woman who might be lying about her rape – and a man who might be falsely accused – has implications beyond the TV screen.
For the first three episodes, viewers won’t know who to believe: Joanne Froggatt’s character Laura Nielson, or Ioan Gruffudd’s Andrew Earlham. Both have wildly different stories about how their date actually ended.
But the two male writers who have penned the drama – brothers Jack and Harry Williams – say that, far from worrying they’ll reinforce society’s tendency not to believe rape victims, they want to explore this and make it “part of the discussion of the show”.
“There’s a knee-jerk reaction you can have,” Jack said at a screening of the first episode in London. But he also had a message for viewers: “Watch it all and then make up your minds.”
Addressing questions about his responsibility as a screenwriter, Harry explained: “Before we took the script to anyone we took it to counsellors and we showed it to everyone in the office, the women who worked there, to say, ‘God is this okay? Does anything sound wrong to you?’ So it’s something we’re very aware of.”
Jack added: “With any good piece of writing you have to think what’s truthful and what’s the most realistic and reflective of life as it can be.
“And even a subject like this you just approach it in the same way, you do your research and think hard about it and make sure you make the right choices.”
The ITV drama will run for six episodes, but the Williams brothers will only keep viewers guessing until about halfway through, when they’ll reveal who is lying: Laura or Andrew. And that won’t be the end of the story.
So were they concerned about whether the storyline could play in to real-world narratives about rape victims, consent, sexual violence and false accusers?
“I think almost, far from being a worry that is part of the discussion and part of the discussion of the show,” Jack said. “Knowing where the six hours go, I think actually it’s great that this is something that’s discussed and something that’s explored.
“So yeah I’d actually say that’s part of what the show deals with, and part of what makes it interesting.”
Downton Abbey star Froggatt, who agonised about taking on a rape storyline for the second time in her acting career, urged viewers to commit to the whole series.
“I think everyone has to see all six episodes before forming an opinion,” she said. “Obviously it’s a piece of entertainment, and it’s built around a very sensitive subject matter, but as I say all thrillers are. There are twists and turns that Jack and Harry have written brilliantly well, because that’s the nature of a thriller, but ultimately you really have to see all six.”
Jack added: “I’d say that’s exactly right. There’s a knee-jerk reaction you can have, but I think just – it’s something we were aware of going in, it’s something we discussed extensively, we know where it goes and we’re very confident with the result being something that isn’t going to cause that kind of reaction.
“Watch it all and then make up your minds. And then send me hate mail.”
Liar begins on Monday 11th September at 9pm on ITV