The Victim review: BBC drama echoes the James Bulger story

The Kelly Macdonald-starring series is as far from a laugh as broadcasting gets

Ed Cumming@EdCumming
Tuesday 09 April 2019 20:07
The Victim Trailer

Anyone looking for a cheery start to the week would do well to avoid The Victim (BBC1), which is about as far from a laugh as broadcasting gets, Mrs Brown’s Boys aside. It’s not that we ought to expect side-splitters from a four-part drama that takes as its starting point a revenge attack on a suspected child murderer and remains at the same level of sobriety throughout. But if you wanted to replace This Time with Alan Partridge with something equally #bantz this is probably not the one. It’s more of a rainy Wednesday mood.

That aside, this is a nuanced and well-crafted legal drama by writer Rob Williams, who has previously worked on Killing Eve and The Man in the High Castle. It opens at the Edinburgh High Court, where a woman has been accused of outing, in a Facebook post, the man who murdered her child 15 years ago. Alternating mainly between courtroom scenes and interviews, the script mainly stays the right side of bombast, while the city provides a suitably weighty backdrop, from the sweeping opening shot of the Firth of Forth onwards.

In James Harkness, Kelly Macdonald and John Hannah, it has three unusually strong leads. Harkness plays Craig Myers, assaulted after being outed as child-murderer Eddie J Turner. Macdonald is the mother in the dock. She is one of our most reliable actors and as she often does, she lends her character a kind of mournful gravitas mixed with simmering anger. Given what she has been through, it is hard not to be sympathetic as she finds herself caught in the law’s granite machinery, but can any trauma justify this kind of extra-legal action? Hannah’s character, DI Stephen Grover, the detective who must try to remain dispassionate around and a fraught and emotive issue, seems not to think so. Yet there are unsolved mysteries in his past, too. He has been transferred from elsewhere, but why?

Plotting aside, as the title suggests the questions that emerge in the first episode are around the idea of victimhood itself, and the distorting effects such egregious crimes have on our expectations about behaviour. They are well timed. The forces that give us blogs, Facebook and Netflix have also made vigilantism of all kinds easier to organise.

Doxxing, where personal information is revealed against political enemies, is becoming more and more common.

The case in The Victim clearly echoes the James Bulger story, where the boys who committed the act, now living under new identities, have endured repeated attempts to have their identities exposed online. The law has struggled to keep pace with these technological developments. For some, web anonymity is a licence to post information without accountability. For others, the internet is a place to evaporate and become someone else entirely. Whistleblowing is easier than ever, but so is ruining someone’s reputation with a false accusation. Either way, it’s not going away, and as The Victim shows, societies must find ways to deal with the asymmetries it enables. How well do we ever know anyone?

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