BODY OF EVIDENCE
As the award-winning Unforgotten returns, the detectives delve into an old murder case – and face a very modern battle with social media
In the new series of Unforgotten, the detectives investigate the murder of a girl at the turn of the Millennium
Acrime that has resurfaced after decades; suspects with skeletons about to come tumbling out of the cupboard; and television’s two least showy detectives – it can only be ITV’s BAFTA-winning Unforgotten, back for a third series.
The show is a critical and ratings hit despite its two leads, DCI Cassie Stuart ( Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar), not fitting the typical TV detective model of being dysfunctional, maverick or superheroes. Its stories use a well- trodden formula, yet have modern themes and attitudes bearing on the historical crimes.
The first series dealt with racism, the second was based around child abuse, and the third looks at how being a suspect in the age of social media can ruin your life, even if you’re innocent.
In this new story, the body of a girl who vanished on the eve of the millennium is discovered at a building site on the M1, several miles from where she went missing. Her disappearance was huge national news at the time, so when her remains are found, DCI Stuart and DI Khan find themselves battling a media storm and a frenzy of commentary on the internet – as well as a community very reluctant to be in the public eye again.
‘It’s high-profile and you see how the village where the girl went missing from has never recovered,’ says Nicola. ‘Not everyone wants them raking up the past and that’s probably more common than we realise. The village has become synonymous with this appalling crime.
‘For many people, the crime is in living memory so the team has to tread extremely gently. The story looks at how a mishandled case sticks in the consciousness of the whole country. We can all name big cases like that. They change the way you feel about the world and that’s something the writer and creator Chris Lang has been looking at all the way through.’
Chris says, ‘I like the idea that people l ive with what they’ve done for years or decades.
And I wanted to examine what happens when the investigation reaches their door.’ This time, the detectives quickly home in on their suspects. In 2000, police focused on the victim’s boyfriend, but the discovery of her body near the M1 means they now believe the killer came from outside her village. Attention shifts to four men, childhood friends, who were holidaying nearby with their families, to celebrate the New Year.
For one of the men, James Hollis – portrayed by Kevin McNally, who played first mate Gibbs in Pirates Of The Caribbean – life changes as soon as the police come knocking. A well- loved television host, he shoulders the brunt of public anger, egged on by social media.
‘ If you’re famous and are seen going into a police station, it attracts attention,’ says Kevin. ‘At one point, a stranger swears at James – they assume he’s guilty. Everyone has an opinion about him.’
Chris says a big theme of this series is the negative side of social media. ‘The ability to express the rage we see every day on Twitter and Facebook is seismic,’ he says. ‘Has that anger always been there, or does the platform amplify the anger? We’re living in angry times.’
The three other men in the frame went to school with James. Alex Jennings (the Duke of Windsor in The Crown) is Dr Tim Finch, a twice-married country GP. He too is affected by the attention from the police investigation. ‘You should be innocent before proven guilty,’ he says. ‘ With the #MeToo movement... while it’s right all that information should come out, there may be questionable accusations and people’s reputations maligned.’
Pete Carr, played by Men Behaving Badly’s Neil Morrissey, is an unsuccessful businessman who struggles to support his wife and two sons. He has relied for years on his friends. Neil says one thing that drew him to the role was the depiction of male friendship.
‘Their friendship brings out their caring sides,’ he says. ‘They help each other but also have arguments. Unforgotten questions the value of friendships and if any of us are aware of what our friends are really capable of.’
Finally, there is Chris Lowe (James Fleet of Vicar Of Dibley fame), who has fallen on difficult times. Formerly a successful advertising executive, he suffers from bipolar disorder and has lost his job, marriage and home. ‘We look at how lives are affected by mental illness,’ says James. ‘It’s a huge issue and it’s healthy to talk about it.’
The detectives are under pressure at home, too. Neither has recovered from the last series, when they investigated serious sexual assaults. Sunny is dating but his ex-wife is back. Cassie is lonely, as her youngest son has moved out and her father now has a new girlfriend.
‘We see more into their home lives, audiences told us they like that. But the case is still the priority,’ says Chris.
The show is famous for plot twists and the cast admit they never guess the murderer. But Chris insists the endings are plausible – the clues are there. ‘ It’s important to always resolve a story, and that doesn’t mean suddenly bringing in a new character,’ he says. ‘ People are tired of engaging with a story for hours then it not being resolved at the end.
‘Here, the culprit is one of four or five people, so you can get it right – if you watch closely enough.’
‘We live in angry times. The ability to express rage online is seismic’
Unforgotten, tomorrow, 9pm, ITV.
Cassie and Sunny have a new historical case to solve
Neil Morrissey plays a man struggling to support his family