Requiem: BBC's latest drama makes an unsettling if not predictable debut

Mike P Williams
(Credit: BBC)

BBC’s newest fantasy thriller, Requiem, began this week, as it hit some interesting beats during a busy and spooky opening episode.

Warning: The following is a discussion of episode 1 and contains spoiler analysis.

Kicking off a six-part series often needs a script and pacing that hits the ground running. Its debut, titled Matilda, actually begins in an understated and fairly slow fashion.

Violinist Matilda (Lydia Wilson) and best mate/pianist Hal (Game of Thrones alumni Joel Fry) travel from London to the rural Welsh community of Penllynith, after the bizarre suicide of her mother, Janice (Joanna Scanlan). Having discovered a collection of newspaper clipping and, frankly, oddly invasive photos, the pair seek out clarity on the nature of her deceased mum’s obsession with the case of a missing girl.

Its opening scene starts with a chillingly horroresque sequence that sees a stately homeowner jump from him mansion roof, after a series of unnerving and apparent supernatural encounters in his home. It’s unclear at this point what exactly is going on, but the context and more so the consequences are explored later on.

Similarly, its these same intrusive voices and ghostly interactions that befall Matilda’s mother and also lead her to taking her own life. Despite these two incidents fairly early on, the focus shifts to why her mum was so keen on the disappearance of said missing girl, Carys, way back in 1994.

(Credit: BBC)

Instinctively and immediately you’ll put two and two together: that Matilda is Carys; which is something that’s virtually confirmed by the closing of the episode. However, while it’s strange for a show to play its hand so early, the importance is presumably the story behind it and the secrets the people and locations of the Welsh village are keeping.

Indeed, Requiem is a particularly British-feeling series made for television and therefore lacks cinematic scope. But that’s not to say it can’t generate suspense and tension during its strongest moments. Here, we’re offered a mishmash of genres ranging from horror, to thriller, to drama, to mystery; meaning it’s not quite sure what it is as it frantically tries to establish itself as something more specific. And it does get there in the end, as a sort of horror-mystery.

But depending on your benchmark will determine how you’ll consume this. If your barometer’s set to HBO shows such as True Detective, Game of Thrones, or Big Little Lies, then you’re going to be disappointed. If you concede to its budgetary restrictions and BBC type of series, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Yet there’s something more relatable here than in, say, their recent Tom Hardy-starring Taboo. Requiem is a grounded tale that boldly tackles themes of child abduction and kidnapping, and the suffocating guilt. The former being a dominant theme that should unfold a twisty and shocking conspiracy because that’s the only possible direction it can venture.

It’s also worth putting its horror elements to one side because, on reflection, the spooky setups can conceivably be the guilt that eats people up. That said, it’s nice that there’s a general spine of eerie storytelling and scares to make the unraveling mystery tenser and more engaging.

(Credit: BBC)

Despite doing some things right – importantly establishing a convincing connection between Matilda and Hal and sufficiently building tension when required – the whole thing does feel forgettable. The issue with its establishing hour is that, as previously mentioned, it gives that reveal right at the death – that Matilda remembers she’s Carys – which isn’t any sort of big shock and merely serves as a catalyst as it invites an audience to want to know the hows and whys.

Sadly, the suspense combined with the characters introduced doesn’t urge you to watch the rest or even the next episode. Instead, you’ll be content to simply switch off after the credits and not think too much about the impending narrative that’ll likely blow any sort of intricate story wide open.

Yet Requiem’s debut is little more than a teaser and context builder. We’re meant to know this woman is the victim of a kidnapping and, by means of introductions and interactions with Matilda, should wish to know more. Unfortunately it’s not executed as well as it could have been and despite a good opening scene, the rest is far from satisfactory.

Whether you’ve the patience and intrigue to continue is inevitably up to you.

Episode one of Requiem is available on BBC iPlayer, as are the impending two to six.

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