In crafting his brand new BBC One crime thriller The Pact, Wentworth writer Pete McTighe has said he was inspired by many of the female-led ensemble shows he remembers from his youth – shows like Widows, Prisoner, and Tenko. For many viewers, though, a more recent series might spring to mind when watching the drama: Big Little Lies. McTighe’s show might not possess the glamour or sheen of that HBO hit, but it does include the same blend of domestic drama and crime thrills that made it such a success and, even if it isn’t quite in the same league, it makes for similarly addictive viewing.
The series centres on a group of four co-workers at a Welsh brewery – Anna, Nancy, Louie, and Cat – whose lives are upended when a prank played on their antagonistic new boss Jack goes horribly wrong. Meaning to take advantage of his drunken stupor by taking some compromising pictures of him, they drive him off to the woods for a late-night photo shoot, only to later discover he has perished in exactly the spot where they left him. Desperate to cover their tracks for fear of being convicted of manslaughter, the four friends are drawn into a pact of silence – although naturally there are one or two obstacles in their path.
I won’t give away any more plot details (or else risk ruining The Pact ending) other than to say that the opening two episodes alone contain enough twists and turns to make even Jed Mercurio blush, while a number of intriguing relationships are set up between the various key players. One of those is that between Anna and her jocular husband Max, who just happens to be one of the police officers looking into Jack’s death. This kind of set-up has been done numerous times before, but it always adds an extra layer of intrigue when a major character risks being caught by someone so close to them, and McTighe largely handles this aspect of the plot well.
It’s a series that’s as much about the relationship between the four friends as it is about the crime they’ve been caught up in, and so it lives and dies by the believability of their dynamic. Thankfully, it’s very easy to buy into the core group and even if some of the dialogue doesn’t always seem the most natural – with a few too many shoe-horned in pop culture references – the four central characters are generally very convincing as a real friend group, while each of their personal circumstances are intriguing in their own different ways.
The series serves as a good showcase for both the beautiful Welsh landscape and the impressive line-up of talent, with Breaking Bad star Laura Fraser and Coronation Street legend Julie Hesmondhalgh in predictably good form as Anna and Nancy. Keeping Faith star Eiry Thomas, whose character Louie is more tied to the case than any other by virtue of being a blood relative of Jack’s, is perhaps the standout among The Pact cast in the opening episodes, while Heledd Gwynn and Abbie Hern impress as Cat and Tish respectively. There are also several notable supporting turns: Rakie Ayola shines with some brilliant line deliveries in the role of eccentric investigating officer DS Holland, while Eddie Marsan tries his hand at a Welsh accent as Jack’s father and the brewery’s previous boss Arwel.
Another aspect worth noting is that this is one of the first dramas I’ve seen to consciously take place in a post-COVID world – there are a handful of mentions of “the past year” sprinkled throughout the opening episodes, and one of the characters is even referred to as “COVID Mandy” thanks to her reputation for having infected several of her coworkers. How to reflect the all-encompassing nature of the pandemic is likely going to be a dilemma for countless TV writers in the coming years, and McTighe does well to weave it into the show organically without the series ever feeling like a drama solely about the virus and its aftermath.
It will be interesting to see where the series goes in the remaining four episodes and, with all six becoming available on BBC iPlayer at the same time, it wouldn’t surprise to see people bingeing their way through them all in quick succession. It might not be the most original crime thriller in the world and there are times where it can perhaps seem a little too soapy for its own good, but at the end of each of the first two episodes I was immediately compelled to watch the next – and for a series of this nature, that’s about as good a mark of success as any.