Guilt (BBC2)


APOLOGIES to all writers of Scottish comedy drama out there. Actors and kilt hire firms, too. Sorry to say that you need not bother putting the Scottish Baftas into the diary for next year because Guilt has launched an early smash and grab of many of the prizes. Possibly only Least Worst Dressed WeatherForecaster of the Year is still available, but best to check.

Created and written by Neil Forsyth, the man behind Bob Servant, Broughty Ferry’s answer to Jeremy Corbyn on a trip north, this tale of two brothers responsible for a hit and run reached its finale last night. Curiously in this age of streaming, when 10 episode runs have become the norm, Guilt came in just four parts. Good things, small packages.

It ended as it had begun, with plenty of surprises and as bleak as Barlinnie in January. No spoilers in case you are still catching up, but enough to say that rough justice was done, though not to everyone who deserved it.

Screen brothers Max and Jake (Mark Bonnar, Jamie Sives) have sparked off each other like DeNiro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run. The wily solicitor and the soft as a jelly baby record shop owner, the wee brother and the big, the black hat and the white. We never quite got to the bottom of what the deal between them was; some past betrayal, maybe, a battle for their mother’s love, perhaps. That was the beauty of Forsyth’s writing, he did not spell everything out for the viewer, instead trusting them to join the dots themselves. Bonnar and Sives did the rest. In one scene last night few words were spoken but so much about sibling love was said.

Bonnar and Sives did not have things all their own way. There were as many weighty roles for women as men, and though the characters did not at first look original, the actors made them so. Sian Brooke oozed wine-swigging suburban disappointment as Max’s lonely wife Claire, while Ellie Haddington’s mommie and neighbour dearest was terrifying. Moyo Akande and Ruth Bradley made their mark as Claire’s friend and Jake’s girlfriend. And what to say about that man Bill Paterson, almost stealing the whole show as the businessman with a past record of extreme violence?

All terrific, but in the end it was Mark Bonnar’s character who proved the most fascinating. Smart, funny, but ruthless as a cornered rat, Max was a handsome devil in every sense, and the shot of him in the car at the end, with that smile, will be the subject of many a post-show discussion.

The location scouting has been superb, with Glasgow standing in for Edinburgh on many occasions (you’re welcome). Many of the streets and buildings I had not seen before, no mean feat in such a well-filmed city as Glasgow, and the piece as a whole was lavishly shot. Modern Scotland’s grubby underbelly was on display here, but so were its boardrooms and big hooses.

Between showing on BBC Scotland on Thursday, BBC2 on a Wednesday, and on iPlayer, Guilt has racked up combined audiences of 1.6 million a week. It is already earning gold stars for its performance in iPlayer. In the rest of the UK, where it is showing a week behind Scotland, it has become cult viewing.

Which just goes to highlight what should be the motto of any channel, be it the new BBC Scotland or one of the older guard. If you build well written, handsomely shot and brilliantly acted dramas the audience will come. It is a big ask, but with writers such as Forsyth around to answer, it is not impossible.