The Victim gets off to an impressive start as it navigates tricky subject matter with admirable credibility.
This recap of The Victim Episode 1 contains spoilers.
Beginning tonight and continuing until Thursday, BBC One’s new drama The Victim is likely to be another hit for the Beeb, in part because it trafficks in controversial subject matter and also because, all things considered, it’s really rather good.
First, the controversy: the titular victim is Craig Myers (James Harkness), a hardworking family man who is viciously attacked after his identity as a notorious child killer is leaked online. Naturally, the prime suspect is Anna Dean (Kelly Macdonald), the mother whose son was supposedly murdered by Craig 15 years prior.
That’s tricky subject matter, no doubt. It raises all kinds of awkward ethical questions about the possibility of rehabilitation, the strictness of criminal sentencing, the fairness of protecting the identities of those who have been accused, convicted and served their time, and the question that the BBC itself has posited in its own marketing of the show: In a case like this, who is the victim, really?
Here’s the good news: The Victim, at least in its first episode, navigates this treacherous terrain admirably. It’s well written and very well performed; Harkness is tremendous at simulating bewilderment and garnering sympathy — well-placed or otherwise — and John Hannah as DI Grover, the copper investigating the case, is as reliable as ever. The show overall exudes credibility and an obvious sensitivity for the seriousness of the subject.
Screenwriter Rob Williams makes a point of ensuring that there are no easy answers here; everyone is potentially a victim, everyone potentially a perpetrator, everyone potentially deserving of condemnation and sympathy both. He also makes a point of highlighting a distinction between morality as it relates to the law and to real life; the tendency of legal justice to craft heroes and villains with binary verdicts, and of the general public to embrace those heroes and campaign against those villains without knowing for certain if the roles have been cast accurately.
Divided between the investigation immediately following the attack and the court case during which Anna is accused of inciting murder, The Victim provides more than enough twisty-turny drama and controversial talking points to find an eager audience over the next four nights. The start was strong — let’s hope that The Victim sticks the landing.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.