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The Secret a drama that brings home horror of killer couple's crimes in a way no documentary ever could

The Secret: Episode 2, ITV

By Fionola Meredith

Published 07/05/2016

James Nesbitt as Colin Howell and Genevieve O’Reilly as Hazel Stewart committing the murders
James Nesbitt as Colin Howell and Genevieve O’Reilly as Hazel Stewart committing the murders
Howell sets up the fake suicides
Howell killing Hazel’s husband Trevor

I watched the second episode of The Secret with different eyes, after the intervention of Lesley's daughter Lauren Bradford.

She said the makers of the drama had exploited her family's tragedy - in which her father Colin Howell and his lover Hazel Buchanan killed both her mother and Hazel's husband Trevor - for the purposes of entertainment.

"When media interest goes beyond the reporting of events, and is against the wishes of the family, the effects can be as devastating as the murder itself," she wrote. "We have been left trembling in the wake of it."

Such searing words mean we cannot view this compelling drama as simple Friday night entertainment, if we ever did. Yet neither can it be regarded as a factual account of these dreadful events.

The result is that the viewer is caught in a kind of moral no-man's-land - horrified, conflicted and gripped at the same time, and never quite sure where the exact truth lies.

In last night's episode we saw how the murders happened - the hose attached to the car exhaust with, of all things, a baby's bottle, snaking its way across the carpet to kill first Lesley and then Trevor.

If nothing else, this re-enactment demonstrated the full horror of the killings, which were made to look like a suicide pact.

It showed how two people were coldly, brutally prepared to rob their own children of a parent. The sheer audacity of the plan was also underscored: two murders in two houses full of sleeping children who could wake at any time.

How did they ever think they would get away with it? But the fact is they did, for many years, and might have done so forever if Howell had not eventually confessed.

Again, James Nesbitt excels himself as the psychopathic dentist, sawing up the baby bottle during a birthday party, tucking the hose under a duvet, calmly singing a jaunty Christian chorus to soothe his tiny wailing child mere hours after he has murdered her mother.

Lesley Howell
Lesley Howell
Hazel Stewart
Genevieve O’Reilly and James Nesbitt in ITV’s The Secret
Colin Howell
Hazel Stewart
Trevor Buchanan
James Nesbitt as Colin Howell

"Nobody is going to catch us," he reassured Hazel. "Lesley and Trevor will be in Heaven soon, they'll be happier there."

For me the most fascinating character was Hazel Buchanan, played with great subtlety by Genevieve O'Reilly. If anyone was in doubt about Hazel's role in the crime, this telling of the story showed her complete culpability. Quite simply, the whole thing couldn't have happened without her. Neat in her tightly-tied pink dressing gown, Hazel was Howell's eager handmaiden, obedient to his every instruction, even getting out the potpourri to remove the stench of the petrol fumes which killed her husband. She straightened a kink in the hose, as though merely doing a spot of Sunday gardening.

Later, when the bodies were discovered, she was wan, impassive, her face blank and tearless.

Lauren's pain and revulsion is entirely understandable. I can't imagine how it feels to have such deeply personal trauma enacted on a television screen, in a way that is entirely beyond your control, but a well-told drama such as this has a way of bringing home the horror of events in a way a documentary never could. By engaging our imaginations, The Secret also awakens our deepest compassion for the victims of such a monstrous crime, both living and dead.

Belfast Telegraph

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