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A Confession (Martin Freeman) - First episode review

A Confession

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

ITV’s latest true crime drama A Confession is a sobering, deeply melancholy series that chronicles the decision by one honest police man to place catching a serial killer over his own career and reputation.

Thus far (based on the evidence of the compelling first episode), it treats the subject matter with due reverence, opting not to sensationalise or over-dramatise – but rather to allow the stark facts to speak for themselves (much like the Martin Clunes-led Manhunt earlier this year).

The pace is gentle, even unassuming. But the sense of dread, the feeling of loss is beginning to become all-consuming.

Written by Jeff Pope (of Philomena fame), the series has been meticulously researched to ensure maximum authenticity, both factually and emotionally.

The opening episode chronicled the search for 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan, pronounced missing between her mother (Siobhan Finneran) and her son. At first, the lack of a phone call is put down to having had too much to drink the night before. But gradually, the fear sets in that something else, far worse, might have happened.

As the hours become longer since the time of Sian’s last contact, so the dread kicks in. The police are called. Interviews with nearest and dearest are conducted. Eventually, CCTV is checked and Savernake Forest is searched.

By the time a pair of knickers is found in the undergrowth, everyone’s worst fears seem all but realised. A press conference – ‘a necessary evil’ – is called and the family rolled out to make a desperate plea on behalf of Sian’s life. Her boyfriend takes the lead. It’s a process of marching towards a seemingly inevitable discovery and realisation: that Sian is dead. And that a murder hunt must begin.

Thus far, this hasn’t happened. But there’s a sense of grim resignation etched across the faces of all of the protagonists, from Sian’s mother, to the detective superintendent, Steve Fulcher (Martin Freeman), who will be tasked with heading the investigation.

What’s notable about Pope’s screenplay at this stage is the way that it eschews convention. Yes, there’s a procedural element to proceedings, which is grimly fascinating. But there’s a much greater emphasis on the emotions at play.

There is a profound sense of loss and tragedy already. Sian, without having been seen as a character beyond a name, is a tragic victim… an otherwise careful woman, loved by her family and onto a good thing with her boyfriend. This happiness has been ripped apart. You can feel the hurt, as much as the anger that is beginning to surface.

In Fulcher, meanwhile, there is a sad realisation that this case already won’t end well. The search for Sian, as yet, has proved unfruitful. But Fulcher, as portrayed by Freeman, is giving everything – accepting phone calls at 2am, and opting to send up a search helicopter in spite of the cost. He is a decent man, concerned for the welfare of victims and colleagues.

An early, establishing scene saw him meet a former colleague accused of sexual misconduct. It was nicely played between Freeman and Cold Feet‘s John Thomson. But it also set things up for the emotional kicker that concluded the episode, as Thomson’s soon-to-be-disgraced cop [and father] was found to have committed suicide. The delivery of said news to Fulcher afforded viewers an insight into Freeman at his best. It revealed the extent to which Fulcher will take things personally, and it might perhaps feed into his later decisions concerning the case.

With five episodes still to come, A Conversation already promises to be a richly absorbing, nuanced tale of good overcoming bad at a heavy cost. It is a fascinating, sobering drama that brings home the dangers of our world all too uncomfortably, as well as the loss such crimes bring, as well as the inherent decency and compassion of the men and women tasked with solving such devastating crimes.

A Confession airs on ITV1 on Monday nights from 9pm (starting September 2, 2019).