Review by C.J. Bunce
For fans of BBC’s four seasons of Shetland, while a fifth is in the works, a 2010 series available via Amazon and BritBox may fill in as a bit of a prequel to the Scottish crime drama. Doctor Who fans may quirk a brow at the words The Silence, but the series villains are no relation to the tense crime drama co-starring Shetland’s Douglas Henshall and deaf actress Genevieve Barr. The Silence is a four-episode series following Barr as 18-year-old Amelia. Recently fitted with a cochlear implant, she is adjusting to the device during her “gap year,” the year between high school and college. It’s a series notable for Shetland and Henshall fans because swap out the character’s DCI Jim Edwards for DI Jimmy Perez and you have basically the same British cop before he went off to Scotland.
DCI Edwards is Amelia’s uncle, and Amelia is staying with him, his wife Maggie (Doctor Who and Law & Order: UK’s Dervla Kirwan), and cousins Tom (Young Dracula’s Harry Ferrier), Joel (Doctors’ Tom Kane), and Sophie (Doctor Who’s Rebecca Oldfield), all while Amelia is attending appointments to practice use of her new hearing device. Amelia hates it, a concept nobody quite grasps. She sees being deaf as somewhat defining, a thing everyone else should accept, but her badgering parents, played by Gina McKee (MirrorMask, Emerald City) and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Doctor Who), are the ones who don’t hear. While staying with her cousins Amelia witnesses a murder, and soon DCI Edwards realizes the likely murderers are within his own police department.
Amelia becomes more than a tangent player to the plot when she tells her uncle she can read the lips of two cops on CCTV footage, implicating several people, and putting Amelia’s life and her uncle’s family and danger, and worse for her uncle, subjecting him to threat of imprisonment per police regulations for not disclosing his niece as an eyewitness. All of this happens in the series’ four hours, in a story probably better suited edited down into a movie-length production. And yet it’s all fresh and new–a police procedural unlike any you’ve seen before.
The handling of a deaf character in a coming-of-age story is very well done. Barr is believable and compelling as a young woman getting mixed up in drinking, sex, and general teen angst, an actress you’d love to see more of. Henshall fans will see the beginnings of that measured, usually reserved, level-headed cop on Shetland. He even uses that extemporaneous utterance of “okay” that would be his trademark four years later on the series he’s best known for. But when an emotional punch is called for, he’s there to deliver it. Of the supporting cast, the standout is Dervla Kirwan, a versatile actress who upstages the other players in every scene.
The only misfire is the abrupt ending. If you’re looking for three hours and forty minutes of exciting television, but don’t mind a less than satisfying finish, The Silence is worth your time. Much like last year’s British series Collateral, viewers will find some good television and fine acting, but they’ll also be left hanging at the end, wanting more. It’s been eight years since The Silence first aired, so that’s not going to happen.
Recommended for Shetland and Douglas Henshall fans, and for the introduction of Genevieve Barr, The Silence is now streaming here on Amazon Prime and BritBox.