A Confession, STV

Crime dramas where young women are the victims and conflicted cops the central characters are such a staple of the TV schedules it’s no exaggeration to say that if you miss one there’ll be another one along in a fortnight. On the evidence of its opening credits – an aerial drone shot of a forest (yawn) – A Confession felt like just one more run-of-the-mill Monday night diversion. Except that if you did miss this one, you missed something a great deal more subtle, nimble and rewarding than the usual ITV/BBC fare.

Reason one is that A Confession is based on real-life events: the disappearance in March 2011 of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan as she was walking home from a Swindon nightclub, the subsequent police investigation and the chain of crimes that investigation uncovered. It’s as if the sensitivities around the subject and the need to treat with intelligence and humanity the process of putting the lives and deaths of real people onto the screen has brought a rigour to the drama that might not otherwise be there. And not just rigour: according to one tabloid, viewers turned off “in their droves” during last week’s opening episode because of the use of shaky, hand-held cameras. Too arty? Yes, for some. But it’s that sort of stylistic flourish which characterises the best of our television and if director Paul Andrew Williams insists on a strong authorial voice, that’s fine by me. Besides, it added grittiness and urgency.

Reason two was a sublime cast led by Martin Freeman as Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, the police officer in charge of the case; Happy Valley favourite Siobhan Finneran as Sian’s mother, Elaine Pickford; and Imelda Staunton as Karen Edwards, a neighbour whose own daughter had been missing for some years when the action opened. As an actor, Freeman’s range is limited. He does amiable, he does concerned, he does bemused. Sometimes he manages all three in the same scene. But here those limitations become strengths as he consoled distraught relatives, managed a large (and growing) team of detectives and deployed important human skills such as empathy. Fulcher as played by Freeman is a man who set great store by emotional intelligence and it’s testament to the skill of writer Jeff Pope (also the man behind an ITV dramatisation of the Yorkshire Ripper case and the BAFTA-winning See No Evil, about the Moors Murders) that we were shown this rather than told it. Good stuff. There won’t be another show like this along in a fortnight.