Mayday, screened on BBC One last year, is a five-part whodunit with pagan/mystical elements, and a curse plays a part in the story. It's tempting to think that the show itself was cursed, because it suffered an extraordinary misfortune. The first part of the script, by Ben Court and Caroline Ip, was written in 2006, and the programme was finally filmed in the very damp May of 2012, before being screened the following year. And what happened? it coincided with ITV's Broadchurch, regarded by me and by other more notable judges as the best crime drama of the year, that's what happened. Poor old Mayday suffered badly by comparison.
A friend who is a good judge had told me that Mayday was inferior, and it is true, I think, that Broadchurch is a more successful drama. However, I decided recently to see what it was like, and acquired the DVD version. What I found was that Mayday is intensely watchable, and although it suffers from a slightly unsatisfactory finale, I think it bears comparison with Broadchurch in terms of quality.
The coincidental overlap between Mayday and Broadchurch is, however, remarkable. Both are strong dramas that offer a whodunit mystery, but also the portrayal of a relatively upmarket south of England community that is torn asunder when a child goes missing. In both stories, a man suspected of being a paedophile is vilified by a local lynch mob. In each case, he commits suicide. In both stories, there is a strong female character, a police officer, whose husband is a suspect. And the coincidences don't end there.
Mayday does, however, offer an interesting, and rather ambitious, added element. This was the concept of "old England" paganism, with dark deeds taking place in the rural woodland. Some reviewers didn't like this aspect of the story, but I felt it added depth, although perhaps it wasn't developed as fully as it might have been; this contributed to the slightly uncertain mood of the story. I also felt more could have been made of the fact that the victim, and the girlfriend of the son of one of the suspects, were twins.
Finally, the cast of Broadchurch was superb. The acting in Mayday is also good, but I did think that the (very talented) actors cast as the teenagers were too old for their supposed characters. Peter Firth agonised credibly as a voyeuristic businessman, and Aidan Gillen was suitably sleazy as a widower with an eye for young girls. Lesley Manville was, arguably, miscast as the businessman's unfeeling wife, but Sophie Okonedo was brilliant as the cop who has given up work to devote herself to her family. Her performance was, for me, as good as Olivia Colman's in Broadchurch. Yesterday, I wrote in this blog about being appreciated. I really do hope that those who worked so hard on Mayday will have their efforts appreciated by people who, like me, watch the show on DVD. They were so unlucky that they were simply in the wrong place on the television schedules at the wrong time.