Sophie Okonedo stuns as “Julia”, the wife of a convicted killer in this riveting opening episode.
This recap of Criminal: United Kingdom season 2, episode 1, “Julia”, contains spoilers.
Julia Bryce is the victim of a killer — in some sense, anyway. As she explains to Detective Constable Vanessa Warren, her ex-husband, Philip, was convicted of murdering a former student of his named Max Peeters. As we learn later, Philip was involved with his male students, sexually, or at least wanted to be, and he strangled Max with a leather belt while standing on the back of his neck for leverage. But did he? Or is there more to the story?
Julia has been brought in because an Italian magistrate has contacted the British police to tell them that another of Philip’s students, Luca Passero, never made it back to Italy. Did Julia’s husband — sorry, ex-husband, as she keeps reminding Vanessa — kill another one?
That’s the hook. As the supposedly informal interview persists, we learn more about Philip, who has children and grandchildren from a first marriage, and Julia, who is fuming at the other people, including her, who bear the brunt of a killer’s crimes, as well as Vanessa, who usually conducts smaller interviews or merely assists in the bigger ones. This qualifies as a smaller interview, until, of course, it doesn’t.
As clues are laid out we begin to get a bigger picture. Philip claims to have kissed Luca in a “passionate state of grief”, but insists that he never visited the house, although Julia claims he did. The subject of a black medium-sized sweater from Zara comes up, presumably bought as a gift by Philip for his student. Philip’s supposed alibi, that he went with Julia to Bristol to visit her mother, is rubbished by his ex-wife. Apparently he never liked his mother-in-law anyway (does anyone?).
An important aspect of Criminal: United Kingdom season 2, episode 1 is the bond that begins to form between Julia and Vanessa. The former advises the latter, who’s single, to get advice from her loved ones before she binds herself to someone. That information won’t be volunteered — you need to force it. Julia is visibly upset by the trauma of recounting what her husband did — they don’t all strangle people with leather belts while standing on the backs of their necks, she says, which, as we see Kyle Petit in the observation room frantically rifle through a folder, is information she isn’t supposed to know.
And there’s the twist. Julia knows details of the killings that weren’t made public — that only the killer would know. But Vanessa doesn’t realize that she’s incriminating herself, which means there’s a moral dilemma. Should the police halt the interview? Or should they let it continue and allow her to keep incriminating herself? Tony Myerscough thinks they should keep it going as long as Vanessa doesn’t know what has happened — after all, if a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a noise?
As the interview persists it becomes clear that Julia is cleverer than she seems; Natalie Hobbs is suitably impressed when she creates an alibi for herself that also rubbishes her ex-husband’s. Everything rests on that trip to Bristol, which Julia makes to visit her insomniac mother, taking her medication to help her sleep that she picks up from the pharmacy along the way. Eventually Vanessa, still none the wiser, concludes the interview. As Julia is leaving, she’s arrested for murder.
Vanessa is, naturally, thrown by this, especially when she’s told that she’ll conduct tomorrow’s subsequent interview based on their rapport. Vanessa is, by her own admission, unambitious. She just wants to be part of the team. After learning what happened she feels like she was the only one who wasn’t in the loop, but Tony is able to talk her around. When Julia returns the next day, in the same outfit but accompanied by her solicitor, Nasreen Shah, Vanessa is reminded of the legal implications but plays it well by being honest about her nerves and anxieties. As it happens, it’s those nerves and anxieties that rumble Julia.
Again, it all comes back to that trip to Bristol. Last night, Vanessa explains, she couldn’t sleep. She was trying to take her mind off the case when she got home since taking her work home has ruined things for her in the past. She relates to something Julia said in the interview about not realizing you know something until you suddenly know it, and that was the case for Vanessa and an ex-boyfriend’s insomnia medication. She took it and slept like a baby. Flunitrazepam, it’s called. The name rang a bell. Why? Because it was in the medical report of Max Peeters. It’s another name for Rohypnol. Philip was never prescribed it, but Julia picked it up for her mother. It’s the nail in the coffin. Her own alibi sank her.
Natalie thinks Vanessa should do more of these interviews, but she’d rather not — she reckons if she takes on the extra work she’ll take it home with her, and she doesn’t want to do that. After this episode, I can’t say I blame her.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.