With Chris Chibnall jumping ship to showrun Doctor Who and ending his Dorset coast-set detective series Broadchurch earlier this summer, ITV were looking for a natural successor. Enter Harry and Jack Williams, whose psychological thriller, Liar takes up the reins with aplomb.
The two brothers, Harry and Jack (36 and 38 respectively, though they look a lot older) were lucky enough to be born into a filmmaking family – their father, Nigel Williams has been writing and directing since 1975 while their mother, Suzan Harrison produces period dramas such as Mansfield Park.
The pair have also recently written Rellik, which ironically debuts on BBC1 in the same slot on the same day, and I’ve a feeling they’re here to stay now they’ve cracked the big time.
The first thing the siblings get right is the setting – just as Broadchurch has its instantly recognisable jurassic coast, Liar’s opening shot is an impressive drone shot of the Essex marshes. Little did I know these waterways would serve as metaphor for the labyrinthe our protagonist was about to find herself navigating.
The opening scenes introduce very recently-single schoolteacher Laura Nielson (the amazingly compelling Joanne Froggatt) on a morning canoe-ride before her ex-boyfriend, policeman Tom (played by Luther’s Warren Brown) finally collects the last of his posessions from her apartment in Deal, Kent.
The script wastes no time in playfully introducing Laura to Welsh widower wünder-surgeon Andrew Earlham (Ioan Gruffudd) and the nervous, likeable pair hastily arrange a date for that night.
Dinner at the end of the pier goes well and, laughing and giggling, Andrew walks her home. Andrew’s phone runs out of battery and he invites himself in while she calls a cab. The cab will take 40 minutes to arrive, so he pours her a drink.
They’re kinda cute together and, no sooner do I simultaneously remember a) this isn’t a rom-com and b) realise the central conceit of the series, we cut to:
INT. LAURA’S BEDROOM. THE MORNING AFTER.
Sobbing, Laura makes it to the shower to wash him any semblence of Andrew from her body before walking through the rain to her sister Katy’s house, where she reveals Andrew drugged and raped her…
Or has he?
Herein lies the thematic question of the series.
I’m not going to give away any more than that suffice to say that when you go back and connect the dots, there is plenty of psychological storytelling at play. The show introduces plenty of potential ‘suspects’ (or red-herrings) from the kind taxi driver to the ex-boyfriend, if indeed Andrew is not the liar.
Andrew is arrested and denies he raped Laura. Truth be told – although I believe Laura, for Joanne Froggatt’s transformation from bubbly teacher to rape victim is an inceridibly powerful performance – I believe Andrew’s side of the story too.
And that’s how this excellently executed series reels you in, hook line and sinker. But wait, nothing is ever that simple in a psychological thriller…
The pilot script perfectly teases at Laura’s past – that she has perhaps lived through this before (or worse; falsely accused before) and perhaps has a history of mental illness she must try to hide from the police.
Is Laura the liar, having made the whole thing up? Unlikely, but nothing would surprise me from these two brillliant writer’s minds.
Laura’s flashbacks to the night before the morning after are incredibly well directed, positioned and edited; I imagine this is exactly what PTSD must be like, with the briefest sight of an object (i.e. wine glasses or mascara) triggering unwanted, traumatic memories.
Speaking of the tight direction – in addition to the musical score, keys and cues, and commercial break transistions. another reason Liar feels like Broadchurch will be due to director James Strong, who worked on both British and US versions the latter being the utterly derided Gracepoint.
Liar also sets up the intriguing, incestuous plot threads that every ITV thriller needs as it turns out Laura’s sister, Katy (Zoë Tapper, also highly watchable) was having an afffair with Tom, who’s been tasked with digging into Andrew’s Edinburgh past and wife’s suicide. In this small Kentish town, everyone has a secret and everyone could be a suspect. Just how we like it…
Episode One ends with Laura taking back the power as she posts on Andrew’s profile page that he is a rapist. Silly girl. While a completely understandable act, it will surely affect the anonimity of her case and cause her unnecessary heartache.
Genuinely gripping, highly emotive, cliffhangery, essential television. Thanks, ITV. I’m going in for Episode Two right now.
King Chibnall is dead. Long live The Williams Brothers.
Liar continues on ITV1 on Monday nights at 9pm.