James Nesbitt returns to ITV in The Secret, a new four-part drama which tells the story of a real life double murder.
Whilst the BBC have had a brilliant start to the year when it comes to television drama (The Night Manager, Undercover, Line Of Duty), ITV have started to catch them up.
The Durrells starring Keeley Hawes (who I adore) is a perfect 8pm Sunday night drama and for the past couple of Monday evenings I have been hooked by Anna Friel's performance in Marcella.
Hoping to join Keeley and Anna in ITV drama success is James Nesbitt, who before returning to Cold Feet later this year, is reminding ITV audiences just how wonderful an actor he is in The Secret.
The opening scene shows a distressed James Nesbitt (Stan Lee’s Lucky Man) inside a caravan panting heavily, whilst certain Ten Commandments appear on screen; "Thou shalt not have any other gods before me", "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife" and "Thou shalt not kill” - an opening scene which sets us up perfectly for what's in store as the series continues.
We know religion will play a big part, we know an illegitimate relationship will take place and we know that at least one person is killed. And of course, thanks to the title, we know that someone is hiding a secret.
What we don't yet know is the detail. Who is James Nesbitt's character? Who has been killed? What is the secret? And whose secret is it? But I'm sure that all will come clear throughout the four episodes.
Before you continue reading, the rest of this review does contain spoilers, but as it’s based on a true story, the story is already out there all to read. It’s based on the book Let This Be Our Secret by Deric Henderson, due to be relaunched as The Secret.
The Secret begins in Coleraine, Northern Ireland in 1990 and tells the true story of Colin Howell (James Nesbitt), a Sunday school teacher and respectable dentist married to Lesley (Laura Pyper), who is expecting their next child.
Very quickly, we as the viewer are able to pick up on the way Colin looks at fellow Baptist Hazel Buchanan (Genevieve O’Reilly), so when he embarks on an affair with her, it comes as little surprise.
When he gets caught out, Colin refuses to consider divorce. He wants to remain in the Baptist church, but also want to remain with Hazel. When Lesley’s father dies, and she contemplates suicide, Colin believes that he has found a way for that to be possible. A way which will prove fatal for their respective spouses, Lesley and Trevor, as they carry out the “perfect murder” and stage it to look like a suicide pact.
Colin and Hazel manage fool the police and get away with murder, but their relationship soon sours and they separate. They each remarry as they try to rebuild their lives, but can never truly escape what they have done. As a series of disasters befalls Howell, he finally confesses his crimes to the horrified elders of his church.
Convicted of murder, Howell implicates Hazel in the killing and in 2011 Hazel admits involvement but pleads not guilty, claiming she was coerced. In a climactic murder trial, Howell gives evidence against his former lover.
James Nesbitt was of course the perfect man to play Colin Howell. Not only is he a fantastic actor, but he is also from Coleraine. Colin lived opposite his sister and his sister went to some of Lesley’s coffee mornings. Speaking about taking on the role, James Nesbitt said "It was hard for us to play these lovers who turn into murderers, because you have to try and find what they saw in each other to make them go that far.
All I can do is try and create something that is truthful to the script, and the writing is so strong. The direction is so acute and so brilliant with Nick Murphy that hopefully we are building an honest portrayal of quite a complicated man.
It would have been easier if he had been incredibly charming, with Colin it was a bit more complicated because he wasn’t. I think some people didn’t warm to him and there was a banality almost to him as well"
I think Nesbitt pitched his portrayal of Colin perfectly. He’s quite right, Colin is a complicated man and there were many different character traits for Nesbitt to inhabit, except charm of course. Something Nesbitt usually exceeds in.
James Nesbitt does what he does best and delivers another emotional gut-wrenching performance. He was able to create such a three dimensional character that you really did feel as though you’d been through every emotion with him, always with a very dark undertone.
Whilst I would have loved a six-part series, I have to be thankful that the series is at least four episodes long and not three. I love that on the one hand, The Secret is a love story, one of betrayal and lust, the type we’ve seen a thousand times over, but on the other hand, it’s a murder story, and when the two mix, it makes for excellent television drama. I’d even go as far to say that this is one of Nesbitt’s finest performances, and one I’m sure he'll be remembered for for a long time.
Much like Marcella, The Secret proves that ITV are capable of creating great contemporary dramas, which is what makes their over reliance on period drama all the more frustrating.
Doctor Thorne was supposed to be the new Downton Abbey but the reality was that nobody wanted to watch, they were far more interested in watching series lead Tom Hollander in BBC One's The Night Manager instead.
So hopefully there's a lesson there for ITV. Of course a mix is great, but the split between period and contemporary needs to be equalled out a bit, and The Secret and Marcella are a great start at making that happen.