When new tenants arrive at a property typically London – a Victorian house sliced up into flats – the mummified remains of a previous inhabitant are found in the no-go attic. This of course gives way to a host of suspicious goings-on, emerging secrets, dodgy characters, moody teenagers, same-sex couples upsetting middle-aged conservative types and, as one might expect, a retired cop who can’t get the case out of his mind.
Thankfully, the tropes are overcome by classy direction, a smart script and engaging performances. As the cop who won’t let go, David Threlfall (Shameless) is marvellous, effortlessly flicking between haunted loner and dry funnyman.
Being Human’s Russell Tovey is also strong, bringing an unexpected sense of menace to a scene involving David Bamber. And while not much of her is seen in the first episode, Jessica Gunning looks set to be the heartbreaking epicentre of scenes to come.
The story may be eerily similar to that of Joyce Carol Vincent, who was found so badly decomposed that she was almost beyond identifying, but writer Tony Basgallop is careful not to cite the real-life case of urban isolation as a direct inspiration. In fact, in the Q&A that ensued after the screening, he drolly remarked that he came to write a mystery thriller because the last thing he did was a heist story (Inside Men), and he couldn’t just do another one of those.
David Bamber was arguably the most amusing of all the interviewees, whether reminiscing about his drama school days, waxing philosophical about cruelty and love or confessing that he would actually make a dreadful teacher.
Director Coky Giedroyc unleashed perhaps the biggest surprise of all: the interiors of the house on screen – including the staircase at the centre of most of the action – were entirely constructed on sets in Wimbledon and Ealing. Production designer Lisa Hall deserves applause for creating such a simultaneously authentic, recognisable and off-kilter space for the stylish new drama to inhabit.
While the glimpse of future episodes featured elements that could veer off into OTT melodrama (let’s hope not), the opening instalment of What Remains promises a highly enjoyable whodunit. Definitely one to tune in for.
Episode 1 airs at 9pm on Sunday 25 August 2013 on BBC One.
Watch the trailer…
Are you looking forward to What Remains? Let us know below…