The Sister makes for seasonally appropriate viewing as a well-acted, stylish murder mystery that flirts with the supernatural.
This recap of The Sister episode 1 contains spoilers.
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn’t judge a four-part TV thriller by its opening scene, but The Sister has a good one. In it, Nathan Redman (Russell Tovey) dumps a handful of pills of a table, ready to gobble the lot, but a televised plea for the whereabouts of Elise (Simone Ashley), a woman missing for three years, stops him in his tracks. What does Nathan know about her disappearance?
Neil Cross, the creator of Luther as well as this fittingly moody seasonal offering on ITV, is good at this sort of thing. That scene raises all kinds of questions and sets the right bleak tone. Things don’t get chirpier from there. The opening takes place in 2013, but we pick up in 2020, at which point Nathan has been married to Elise’s sister, Holly (Amrita Acharia), for seven years. You can do the maths. They live together relatively happily until the ominous arrival of Professor Bob Morrow (Bertie Carvel), a sinister and grubby-looking paranormalist who wouldn’t be out of place cleaning the corridors at Hogwarts. Bob is an aficionado of Most Haunted-style otherworldly investigations and is the bearer of some bad news: A new housing development is going to dig up a body they buried in the woods, and that body might very well belong to Elise.
Along with these sinister tidings, Bob also brings The Sister closer to overt supernaturalism. Carvel is reveling in the schlubby oddities of this lank-haired creeper, and his presence is an injection of malice every time he shows up. He makes a stark contrast to Tovey’s everyman, torn between his new, happy life and his guilty secrets, obviously terrified of Bob and whatever he represents about his past.
This is a fertile setup for a murder-mystery and a vaguely supernatural chiller, and The Sister is happy to be both in about equal measure. It builds a strong, eerie atmosphere, but it’s a slow-paced affair and tries to be a little too clever for its own good with its frequent tension-building time-hops. There’s also little to no romantic chemistry in the central pairing, making them difficult to buy as a couple. Luckily, Nathan’s fraught anguish and Bob’s sinister menace are enough to keep the first episode ticking along.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.