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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