Deb­o­rah ross ‘Rel­lik: it all seems a bit back­wards’

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Two new thrillers this week, both writ­ten by Jack and Harry Wil­liams – the broth­ers who also wrote The Miss­ing – and pitched head-to-head on op­pos­ing chan­nels. (The shows, that is, not the broth­ers.) One is Rel­lik, a se­rial-killer drama told in re­verse (Rel­lik is ‘Killer’ back­wards), while the other is Liar, a ‘she said/he said’ rape drama that does not tell the story in re­verse, or it would be Rail. We don’t know which one the boys’ mother watched in real time, but I would have ad­vised record­ing Rel­lik, the bet­ter to pause it so she might scratch her head or throw a shoe at the TV while cry­ing, ‘I’ve tried to fol­low this very closely but do not un­der­stand why it’s dark out­side!’

Rel­lik is our Scandi noir. It is gloomy. It rains. The colour palette doesn’t much want to leave grey. Or brown. Our hero is DCI Gabriel Markham (Richard Dormer) who is on the trail of a se­rial killer who at­tacks his vic­tims with acid. Markham has also been at­tacked by the killer at some point and is hor­ri­bly dis­fig­ured. It starts at the end, with the main sus­pect be­ing shot by the po­lice, even though Markham is not con­vinced he’s their man. The nar­ra­tive then lurches back­wards as, vis­ually, the ac­tion un­does it­self. It lurches back ten hours and then five hours, but is that five hours from the ten hours, or is it five hours from the start time? At one point I thought I had it all worked out – you’re so clever, I told my­self; you’re so bril­liant – but if it was 2pm, why was it night time? I threw a shoe.

Play­ing with time in this way isn’t that orig­i­nal (see the films In­cep­tion and Me­mento), but for it to work as a con­ceit the au­di­ence must not be pre­oc­cu­pied with the me­chan­ics at the ex­pense of en­gag­ing with the story. Sim­i­larly, there’s al­ways the dan­ger that the writ­ers have paid so much at­ten­tion to the me­chan­ics they might not be that in­ter­ested in the story or their char­ac­ters. Markham, for in­stance, is the sort of dam­aged, gruff, mas­cu­line cop – with gor­geous younger girl­friend! – we’ve seen umpteen times be­fore. When his boss sug­gests he might not wish to be in­volved in a case that’s so per­sonal he says, ‘Let me do it’ in the manly man­ner of ev­ery manly man you’ve ever seen in this par­tic­u­lar role. The script is of­ten clunky. Why, the hot girl­friend asked at one point, is the gen­eral pub­lic so wor­ried about this killer be­ing on the loose? I don’t know, love. Maybe be­cause he’s slash­ing necks then bathing the vic­tims in acid? There are other char­ac­ters: a psy­chi­a­trist with OCD; a wealthy man who stays in top ho­tels. And Markham has a wife, it turns out. It will, doubt­less, all come to­gether, but only if you can hang on in there, and only if you don’t find your­self wish­ing it would all just fast-for­ward…

Liar was al­ways go­ing to be the eas­ier propo­si­tion with its stan­dard chronol­ogy, and do you know what I’ve learned about my­self this week? I like a stan­dard chronol­ogy. Joanne Frog­gatt plays Laura, a teacher who goes on a date with Andrew (Ioan Gruf­fudd), a dishy heart sur­geon, and they end up back at her place. The next morn­ing, Laura wakes up hor­ri­fied and dis­traught and says Andrew raped her. Mean­while, he tells a col­league what a great night he had and sends her a text to this ef­fect.

So who is telling the truth? Her mem­ory is hazy be­cause, she says, she was drugged. As for Andrew, his ver­sion of events does not tally with what we’ve seen. They both have back­sto­ries. She has suf­fered men­tal-health is­sues which, she knows, will come back to bite her if it goes to court. He had a wife who com­mit­ted sui­cide, but did she? It is well per­formed. True, Gruf­fudd has yet to be any­thing other than smooth, but Frog­gatt, as we know from Down­ton, is ex­cel­lent at ex­ter­nal­is­ing distress.

Ap­ple Tree Yard and the last Broad­church were also rape dra­mas so I’m guess­ing we must now ac­cept it as a genre, al­though whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I just don’t know. Let’s just say it’s un­com­fort­able view­ing and that some of the plot twists felt less than con­vinc­ing. Would Laura have un­der­mined her own case by rant­ing on so­cial me­dia as she did? Would he have con­fronted her in the class­room?

But I’m in­trigued as to where it might be go­ing. You can’t have Laura as the liar, as you’d be say­ing women rou­tinely make this stuff up. On the other hand, you can’t just as­sume all al­leged rapists are guilty. There is no safe ground, which is why I’m think­ing a third party may be in­volved. I’ve got my eye on Laura’s po­lice­man ex-boyfriend; the one who, we learned right at the end, is car­ry­ing on with Laura’s mar­ried sis­ter. How will the Wil­liams broth­ers work their way out of this? I ad­mit it: I’m keen to see. Also, I did not throw a shoe.

Jodi Bal­four and Richard Dormer in Rel­lik

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