Birger Larsen’s BBC debut: “Murder: Joint Enterprise” is a one-off drama from the acclaimed director of The Killing. Its really bloody and really bloody good. The BBC being the BBC, I can’t directly post the trailer, but I can link you to it above and tell you a bit about it.
Told through a series of retrospective monologues cross-cut with montage sequences of extraordinary visual scope, from Brechtian soliloquising straight through the Fourth Wall to beautifully old-school, Super8 (or was this just an effect?) footage that gave each shot a real personality, that made you feel that the same event view through different Instagram-like filters creates not only the different hues of narratives within a single story, but entirely disparate and contradictory stories that force you to play judge and jury [I’m so sorry, Birger Larsen, that is about the most demeaning analogy I could’ve come up with, but it works].
As for the executioner, Larsen has played his cards extremely well. He drip feeds information about each character that is both vital to the story, and ultimately, somewhat obfuscating- not so much a series of red herrings as a shoal of pinkish salmon, not quite throwing you off but playing with your expectations and sympathies, much as the real jury in this twisting case would have to endure. Joe Dempsie’s unbearably tense, traumatised character somehow balances threat and vulnerability to the point where you trust his shred of a defense, whilst simultaneously balking at every miscarriage of justice that drives a nail into his coffin. Karla Crome is more than a match for him, as the underplayed young anti-heroine, whose vulnerability masks the shocking finale of the tale, even to her retrospective self. However, it is the the supporting cast that make this programme so immersive and convincing. From the asthmatic detective to the scheming QC, these public performances of private dilemmas provide the subtler shades that highlight Larsen’s directorial might; honing performances that compliment a wider story, so that each character compliments the other only in the audience’s mind, and not on the screen itself. This is a remarkable level of trust to hand to a prime-time audience.
Larsen does not shy away from the nitty-gritty long-missing from BBC drama, to the point, where I nearly began to expect ad-breaks as its competitors do; their absence made the piece all the more excruciatingly engrossing. Characters cuss, curse, beat each other with blunt objects, bare breasts, bleed and blunder through their “recorded” actuality, whilst in their retrospective monologues scheming and clawing their way through layers of perjury and prejudice that you just don’t expect from the modern, sanitised Corporation.
From the small details like the revelation that Dempsie’s violent squaddie-rapist is in fact a decorated, crippled Iraq veteran abandoned by the system, a structure builds up that teters on audience expectation; the natural sympathy one feels towards a veteran and a one-legged soldier completely swinging the barometer of guilt towards Crome’s naive self-assurance of acting in the name of her wastrel mother. But then these are minor details; the punch is packed into a conclusion made shocking because of its sheer, twisted amoral justice: Dempsie finds the home he never had in prison, and relinquishes his insistence on innocence, just as it is revealed that he is entirely guilt free- and as that happens, we turn with shock to the villain, the young girl liberated from abandonment and returned to her mother, who seems to have buried the truth of her guilt behind the facade of the new house that represents the thwarted life she believes she deserves- in a sickening twist, as the mother breaks down with the shock realisation of her daughter’s guilt, Crome remoulds the new life that she destroyed when she killed her sister, to fit the new illusion she has forged of a united family.
Larsen stunned the world with The Killing- Murder: Joint Enterprise suggests more brilliance to come. Stay tuned.