sat 24/08/2019

What Remains, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

What Remains, BBC One

What Remains, BBC One

David Threlfall returns, as a DI chasing dark secrets behind respectable London facade

David Threlfall: a face that has seen neither a razor nor a good night's sleep in a while

It’s a while since BBC One served us up for Sunday night primetime something with so much black humour as there is to enjoy in What Remains. The tone of the script from Tony Basgallop (Inside Men) is as sardonic as it comes, and the cast of characters he assembles around its south London location doesn’t look like it will be presenting the human race in its most redeeming light.

David Threlfall as DI Len Harper isn't a detective with many illusions left about his job, or the people it brings him into contact with – we can see it in those tired eyes and stubbled cheeks. It’s Threfall’s first appearance since he clocked off as Frank in Shameless, a role that defined him for almost a decade.  Here the hangdog Len’s in his last week on the job, debating possible future pastimes with his sidekick Alice: with little enthusiasm shown for either golf or pottery, we suspect that the archery set he's given by his fellow cops at a more than usually lugubrious pub leaving do isn’t exactly going to have its bow stretched.

Len has been called into 8 Coulthard Street, a Victorian house converted into flats, that has just rediscovered the whereabouts of one of its long unseen residents. Melissa Young (Jessica Gunning, pictured right) always kept herself to herself, but has now become the building’s proverbial body in the attic. Given that she’s been lying there for at least two years, forensics offers precious few hints as to how she died.

When Harper starts talking to the neighbours he’s surprised to find just how easily a person can drop out off the radar. Meanwhile the DI’s own life after retirement hardly looks like it’s going to be sociable - his wife had died the previous year and most of his human contact came through work. Despite the myth that we’re all so interconnected these days thanks to technology, there’s nothing unbelievable in the premise itself: Carol Morley's acclaimed documentary Dreams of a Life from a couple of years ago told one such real-life story.

So Harper isn’t going to let this case drop, retirement or no retirement. But his social skills (or rather lack of them) aren’t going to be much challenged by the residents of this particular building. Single middle-aged maths teacher Joe (David Bamber, pictured left) isn’t one to beat about the bush, when he tells Harper that the atmosphere of the place has been definitely improved by Melissa’s absence, given that no one really liked her in the first place. Joe’ll definitely have some explaining to do about why his solitary basement life isn’t actually solitary anymore, following a discovery made by one of his ex-pupils who has just moved in with his pregnant partner Vidya (Amber Rose Revah); she's the only resident who might actually give you a smile if you passed her on the stairs.

Local journalist Kieron (Steven Mackintosh) is trying and failing to connect his life with a new partner with a cantankerous teenage son from his first marriage. His motivation for not reporting the discovery of the body in the attic couldn’t be much baser, either – in case it affected the property prices, as Kieron’s eager to sell up and move on. At least the prospect of a baby in the building, he jokes to Joe, might drive the lesbians away. Cut to said lesbian household upstairs, where Elaine (Indira Varma, pictured above right) is playing melancholy (presumably lesbian) music, much upset by the fact that her other half’s not picking up the phone. Cue division of the partnership pets, in this case a pair of goldfish (you really don’t want to know).

That’s the kind of laconic touch that director Coky Giedroyc (The Spies of Warsaw) brings off very well. 8 Coulthard Street may look respectable from the outside, but seems to have a malign character of its own, as Harper discovers at the end of episode one. That bump'll take a while to heal.

His social skills (or rather lack of them) aren’t going to be much challenged by the residents of this particular building

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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The eagle-eyed may have noticed that one of Indira Varma's pet fish was in fact not a goldfish. It's no't clear if this was why it was moved to a new, er, home.

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