Wednesday, 18 September 2013

What Remains and the modern whodunit

What Remains maintained to its fourth and final part the appeal that I wrote about in my review of the first episode and David Threlfall continued to perform superbly in the role of the decent but emotionally bereft ex-cop Len Harper.

The claustrophobic shared house setting was brilliantl captured, and although the last ten minutes or so were pretty melodramatic in comparison to the subtle tension-building that had gone before, overall I very much enjoyed the story. While watching it, I was prompted to reflect on the strength of the whodunit as a narrative form, because despite its highly contemporary mood and subject matter, What Remains was a genuine whodunit, with added value in terms of characterisation and, above all, the compelling portrayal of how desperately lonely life can be in the heart of bustling metropolitan London.

Stripped of the moody and dark photography, the storyline was reminiscent of the Golden Age. Almost all the occupants of the shared house nursed dark secrets. Possible motives were lightly sketched (a slight plotting weakness, perhaps?) but almost everyone seemed capable of having murdered the luckless young woman whose body had been found in the attic two years after she was last seen - a disappearance to which hardly anyone paid attention. There was even a "least likely culprit" in the Christie tradition.

If analysed carefully, I'm not sure that - despite its superficially very "realistic" take on modern life - What Remains was much more plausible than many a Golden Age mystery. But on the whole,that didn't matter. It was good entertainment, and offered a story that will linger in my mind for quite a while. This is something that a good whodunit can do -whether it's a modern TV drama, such as Lewis or Vera or Broadchurch, or an older story,such as the better 'forgotten books' that I cover on Fridays. The combination of a mystery to solve, coupled with interesting people and a well-evoked setting has just as much appeal today as it did eighty years ago..


Stephanie said...

I lived it - well written and beautifully acted - well for 3 hours and 50 minutes.The last ten minutes were something of a let down. Any woman whose child is at risk would have locked themselves in the flat and ring the police ... but climb up a loft ladder with a small baby to a dark, grotty place where someone had been murdered before - I think not.

Unknown said...

Stephanie, I agree as far as the likelihood of what might happen in real life, but it would be a pity if drama didn't sometimes have a touch of revenge tragedy. I thought it was an extraordinary and daring ending.