Last Friday saw the first episode of The Secret, ITV’s newest crime drama based on the true story of the Castlerock Suicides in Northern Ireland in the Nineties. Baptist dentist Colin Howell, James Nesbitt, and Sunday school teacher Hazel Buchanan, Genevieve O-Reilly, make up the murderous couple that enter into a pact to kill their spouses.
The events unfold in the unsuspecting town of Coleraine and, chillingly, the series was filmed in many of the real locations. The story is very close to home for Nesbitt, who himself grew up in Corelaine, and is linked to Howell through relatives, friends and cleaners. The community is devoutly religious, and The Secret is a disquieting portrayal of evil operating under the cover of religious righteousness. A setting where minor transgressions never stay secret for long, but major ones go uncontested for years, or in this case two decades. The hypocrisy is arduous to watch but, as the director Nick Murphy has said, ‘these people made God in their image’.
Thanks to the pastor, this was the most quickly uncovered affair I’ve even seen on TV. The tension between religion and sexual obsession climaxes when, after a quick session of How’s Your Father and a carnal climax, Howell offers a ‘humane’ solution to end their partners’ suffering. And get out of their marriages which they are prevented from doing by the church. O’Reilly is entirely believable as a woman who wants to be led astray, and James Nesbitt is masterful, in his acting and his manipulation.
Personally, I like shows that are based on the truth in some form or another. I feel like it gives the program more depth and prevents you losing interest when the events become too unconvincing. But what is it like for the families of victims whose murder is deemed ‘a good enough story’ to be televised. Lauren Bradford, the daughter of Lesley Howell, has written an article for The Guardian about her feeling to the serialisation of her mother’s murder. She gives the example of her mother’s name being misspelt in emails with the production company as one example of the disrespect for the victims, and how families feel a loss of control over their loved ones’ narrative.
The first episode of The Secret foreshadows the deeply, dark story of evil hiding in plain sight, that will develop in the coming three episodes. Most of us love a dark crime drama, but the reality of murder is bereft of scenic shots of the sea and close-ups.
Image courtesy of ITV.