Guilt Review: Brothers’ grim cover-up sets off series of unfortunate but darkly funny events
Perhaps owing to some deep-seated fear of authority, I have a particular aversion to shows which follow this plot pattern: Character commits crime, Character panics and decides to cover up crime, Character’s crime cover-up begins to unravel, Character panics again and commits another crime to cover up the cover-up — and so on.
Just 'fess up now and save me the stress, I want to shout. But, of course, no good drama was had from an act of social responsibility.
I’m glad I made an exception to my arbitrary rule for Guilt. Written by Neil Forsyth (Urban Myths, Bob Servant) this four-part mini-series from BBC Scotland is a pin-sharp black comedy about two brothers who find themselves facing a dark moral dilemma.
Driving home from a wedding in Edinburgh one night, Max (Mark Bonnar) and Jake (Jamie Sives) accidentally hit an elderly man crossing a suburban street. The man is killed instantly.
Knowing they’re both over the limit and Jake is uninsured, they panic and move the body back into the man’s house. While there, they discover Walter, the dead man, was suffering from terminal cancer. Have they just given him a mercifully swift exit? Plus, a terminal illness won’t require a post-mortem, hard-nosed lawyer, Max thinks. “Poor bastard just slipped away,” he shrugs. They remove his coat, prop him up in a chair and drive off.
What follows is a series of awful but darkly funny events, set in motion by the arrival of Walter’s American niece Angie and what must be the most inappropriate romantic encounter of all time. Much of the comedy hinges on the black-and-white contrast between the two brothers, played by actors who have known each other in real life since primary school.
Sives, as the emotional record shop owner Jake, is struggling with the guilt of it all — “He played the trumpet,” he gasps when they enter Walter’s house, “We’ve killed a sentient being!” — while the excellent Bonnar is on fine form as amoral Max, his mouth set into a hard line as he attempts to keep his softer brother’s story straight.
There’s a particularly amusing moment when Max hires his alcoholic private investigator to put Walter’s increasingly suspicious niece’s mind at rest (knowing the investigator will be too sozzled to do a good job), only to find him suddenly turn over a new, sober leaf.
Forsyth’s tightly written screenplay means the action never sags, and it’s frequently very funny. When Jake gets drunk with Angie, he demurs when she invites him to dance. “You’re a bad dancer?” she asks. “Oh, no,” he replies, “I’m just, you know … Scottish.” There were the usual grumbles when BBC Scotland launched in February but its latest offering is a finely tuned piece of dark comedy. Things promise to get even stickier for the brothers in episode two, but when the writing’s this good it’s well worth the stress.
Guilt airs on BBC Two at 9pm on Wednesdays. Viewers can catch up on iPlayer.
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