ONE OF US
BBC drama One Of Us is a whodunit based around a moral dilemma that poses the question: what would you do? Crime Scene meets writing duo the Williams brothers and the cast of a murder mystery that’s set to get the nation talking.
The cast and writers talk murder and morality.
With a closed circle of suspects and isolated location, One Of Us seems perfectly timed for Crime Scene’s Agatha Christie special. But as brothers Jack and Harry Williams talk to us about the series following a screening of the opening episode at a hotel in London’s Soho, it turns out there’s more to it. “There is the big country house mystery in the middle of nowhere during a massive storm – people have said Agatha Christie to us,” says older brother Jack Williams. “So it felt quite fun to have those elements – it makes it more enjoyable over the next three hours to completely subvert the expectation of what would happen in that kind of show.”
As viewers of 2014 series The Missing will know, the writing duo like to play with thriller conventions: The Missing, which followed a father’s search for his young son who vanished on holiday in France, had a split timeframe and an ambiguous ending. (A second season will air later in the year.) True to form, One Of Us grabs you from the start with some cunning misdirection. A touching wedding scene of a young couple plays out, but just as you anticipate a slow build-up to the crime, the camera pulls back to reveal that the marital speeches are on a TV screen. The couple in the wedding footage have been slaughtered in their living room – and a suspicious character is standing over them with a knife.
The horrific double murder sets up a bravura opening from director William Mcgregor ( Poldark), as the action shifts to the Highlands and the dead couple’s two
families. With sweeping shots of the rural landscape (actually filmed in the Scottish Borders), it’s in marked contrast to the murky, downbeat feel of The Missing. “Isolation’s important both logistically to the story and emotionally, because psychologically they’re isolated and what they’re going through is something no-one else can understand and relate to,” says Jack. “I think our director Will did an amazing job – it looks amazing, it’s got a very cinematic quality.”
When word of the shocking killing of Adam Elliot and Grace Douglas reaches their remote Highlands village, One Of Us explores the grief of the neighbouring families, followed by an act of vengeance. As Adam’s mother Louise, Juliet Stevenson ( Place Of Execution, Accused) gives the sort of powerful performance you would expect from such a celebrated actor. The TV thriller’s focus on the victims’ families “has a human emotional connection to it that an audience can hopefully relate to,” Harry tells Crime Scene.
Although it’s a bleak and disturbing opening, hinting at family secrets and hidden trauma, it soon becomes clear that the Williams brothers take the writing seriously but not themselves. At one point, Harry jokes that their partnership soured “when I slept with his wife”. Younger by a couple of years, Harry is the slightly scruffier sibling who works more on character, while his brother attends to the structure. “You’re more of a big picture guy, I’m more of a details man,” Jack tells him.
It’s obviously a winning partnership and, as the brothers finish one another’s sentences, they reveal the depth of their ambition for their atmospheric drama. The plot takes a twist when the drug addict suspected of the double murder crashes a car in the village where the victims’ families live. During a raging storm, they find him badly injured and face a dilemma. The weather conditions mean they are completely cut off from the emergency services. One Of Us raises the question: if you could take revenge for the murder of a loved one, would you do it?
Of course, it’s bound to get people talking about the idea of taking the law into
your own hands. “What if the worst person in the world turns up at your door and you could get away with it?” ask the brothers in unison. Harry is hoping that it “sparks a conversation” among the audience. The four-part series is a mystery within a mystery that will certainly get viewers hooked. “I always like finishing an episode and thinking ‘I can’t wait to watch the next one’,” says Jack. “And if we don’t have that feeling then no one else is going to.”
As the series progresses, viewers will be coming up with theories as they await the next episode – it’s easily as addictive as Broadchurch. Georgina Campbell, who plays the partner of Rob Elliot (Joe Dempsie), is actually filming the new season of Broadchurch (she’s sworn to secrecy). “I think it’s interesting in this that Harry and Jack have taken a genre and they’ve twisted it,” she says of One Of Us. “The murder mystery genre is kind of timeless; it’s just interesting seeing a new adaptation of it.” The brothers’ thriller incorporates other strands that “explore morality and what people are capable of”, says Harry. Claire Elliot (Joanna Vanderham) is asked to help with an assisted suicide, while Laura Fraser plays a cop who’s selling drugs to pay for her daughter’s medical treatment. Fraser has form when it comes to crime drama: the Scottish actor had a role in the final season of Breaking Bad. “We liked her so much she’s also in The Missing 2,” says Jack. The return of The Missing is set to be an international TV event. “We wanted to bring the French detective [played by Tcheky Karyo] back – that just seemed too good an opportunity to miss to tell a new story with him,” says Jack. However, the brothers insist that One Of Us is a one-off, so they need to come up with something special for the finale to match the opening. “Hopefully it’s a great hook,” says Harry. “But there’s more stuff going on emotionally for our characters, so for the ending we were much more concerned with the complexity of it psychologically than we were about who and why.”
“I think you’ve got to be upfront and fair with people, and always assume they’re smarter than you,” adds Jack. “We knew where we were going and we’re really excited about episode 4. We genuinely can’t wait.” Millions of One Of Us viewers can’t wait either.
The shocks keep coming – for the characters and viewers alike – from episode 1 on.
Harry Williams and brother Jack (back to camera) on set.