Review by C.J. Bunce
It arrived in Scotland and the UK in 2019 before the pandemic, then took its time getting to the States. In the interim it won top honors in Scotland for the darkly funny and thrilling series and show director Robert McKillop, with nominations for its actors and writing. It’s BBC’s Guilt, featuring the amazing, award-winning co-star of Shetland and Unforgotten, Mark Bonnar. Fans of UK television have seen Bonnar as both well-meaning and outright guilty before, but not quite like the compounding weight placed upon his character in Guilt. And the result is a performance of multiple facets of the human condition that at times is laugh-out-loud funny. Bonnar co-stars with Jamie Sives (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones) as brothers who run over and kill an old man while driving home after a wedding. Their world falls apart when the dead man’s niece arrives from Chicago. She’s played by Irish actor Ruth Bradley, who played the stellar, tragic cyborg DI Voss on BBC’s Humans. Guilt is now airing on PBS Masterpiece, with its entire four-episode first season streaming now on PBS Passport.
When Bonnar’s character Max looks in disbelief at the inane, repeated stupidity of his brother Jake, it’s as real and human as you’ll find any performance on television. Max plays a reasonably well-adjusted lawyer (or so he thinks), and Jake runs a vintage record shop. Not Jake’s first mistake, but an early one, is leaving his wallet at the scene of the crime. His retrieval causes him to meet the dead man’s niece, Ruth Bradley’s Angie, and the result is an ongoing, strange romance with her. Max does all that he can do to get Angie to go home to Chicago, which prompts her to be suspicious about Max. Is Angie really even the dead man’s niece? And why do all the neighbors seem to know about the late-hours collision that killed their neighbor? What ends will Max go to to keep everyone quiet?
Credit Neil Forsyth, in only his second ongoing series, with sharp writing and witty dialogue. It’s both great crime writing and a showcase for the acting talents of its top three actors. At times the quick scene clips play out like Shaun of the Dead, and Bonnar, especially his accent, plays it like he could be swapped for Simon Pegg in full flummoxed mode. Along with several supporting actors from Game of Thrones, Traces, and EastEnders, watch for Emun Elliott (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Prometheus) as a washed-up private investigator, Sian Brooke (Sherlock, Good Omens) as Max’s wife, Michael Nardone (Dune, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Shetland, Traces), Bill Paterson (Sea of Souls, Doctor Who, Law & Order: UK, Shetland, Fleabag), Moyo Akandé (Zebra Girl, The Cry), and Ellie Haddington (Enola Holmes, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Sea of Souls).
You’ll want to jump on the series now, as season two (called “series 2” in the UK) is expected to arrive there this Fall. New cast members will include Sara Vickers (Watchmen, Shetland), Ian Pirie (Traces, The ABC Murders), Phyllis Logan (Downtown Abbey, Doctor Who, Sea of Souls), Rochelle Neil (Law & Order: UK, Terminator: Dark Fate).
For a brilliantly funny series opener and more good drama ahead, set your DVR for Guilt now on PBS Masterpiece or catch the entire first season on PBS Passport.