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Village dilemma

02 September 2016

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A COUPLE of years ago, the brothers Harry and Jack Williams wrote a memorable thriller, Missing, about a child who was abducted. Now they return with a new four-part drama, One of Us (BBC1 Tuesday of last week), set in a remote Highlands village, but engaging with the human, emotional, and communal consequences of the murder of a young couple on their honeymoon in Edinburgh. The writers and a fine cast capture precisely the stony horror of unexpected tragedy.

Almost all the action in this first episode took place in the tiny village where the young couple had grown up — a village temporarily cut off from the rest of Scotland by violent weather. In claustrophobic isolation, and presented with an unexpected and injured visitor whom they suspect to be the killer, the families debate whether to call the police. Their dilemma is complicated, but not solved, when the visitor is killed during the night.

One reviewer called the plot “implausible”, but to anyone who has ever lived in such an isolated community, it is not. The devout Presbyterian father of the murdered bride was all for keeping the problem within their domestic confines. “One of us killed him. It’s our problem, our responsibility.” Presumably the next three weeks will reveal how this complex mystery of love, anger, and moral responsibility works out. On an August evening on television, this was gold indeed.

In Great Canal Journeys (Channel 4, Wednesday of last week), Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales have made the canals and waterways of Britain their own for the past couple of years, their enjoyment of the peace and beauty of river and canal matched by their enjoyment of each other’s company.

The viewer can sense the gentleness with which the husband cares for his wife, whose dementia was diagnosed several years ago. It is, as someone said to me, the sort of thing you look at when you do not want to watch television. In truth, it does not feel like television; it is more like an hour spent with a couple of familiar elderly friends engaging in a pleasantly relaxing pastime.

For this programme, they left these shores to explore the canals of the Netherlands. West quoted a Flemish saying, “God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands,” a truth underlined when he observed that they were, at that point, on dry land, but 23 feet below sea level. It was Scales, though, who observed that in Britain canals were inconspicuous, but in the Netherlands they were centre stage: “canal perfection”, she called it.

Centre-stage this week in broadcasting terms was undoubtedly the return of The Great British Bake Off (BBC1, Wednesday of last week). The first baker to get his dimittis was a pastor, who took it as a good Christian should. It will, no doubt, engage a multi-million audience for the next several months.

Being largely impervious to the appeal of food to be looked at, I find more enjoyment in its irreverent counterpart, The Great British Bake Off: An extra slice (BBC2, Friday), where Jo Brand and her assistants make sure that we do not take the whole slightly overblown process too seriously.

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