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One Of Us: Menacing secrets in the Scottish Highlands

Following huge success with The Missing, brothers Harry and Jack Williams have penned another thriller. The writers - and some of the cast - tell Susan Griffin about new drama, One Of Us

Published 20/08/2016

The ensemble cast of One of Us
The ensemble cast of One of Us

While the phenomenally successful series The Missing, starring James Nesbitt, was being shot in Belgium, writing brothers Harry and Jack Williams were already working on their next thriller.

"We talk about it for as long as it takes - a really, really long time," says Harry of their creative process. "We talk about the themes and the characters and where it could go. It's 90% talking and plotting and figuring out how it might work."

The result this time is One Of Us, a dramatic four-part tale set against the brooding backdrop of the Scottish Highlands.

"After doing eight hours of The Missing, it was exciting to do something with a different pace and feel," says Jack. "As you'll see from the first episode, it's quite intense and a lot happens."

The story begins with the brutal murder of Adam and Grace, childhood sweethearts who've just returned from honeymoon. Where many dramas focus on the investigation, the action revolves around their two devastated families, neighbours in a remote part of Scotland, and what happens when the murderer arrives on their doorstep.

"As a viewer, you're conditioned to expect certain things," says Jack. "Making grief an important and palpable part of it and getting inside the perspective of these families puts a new spin on it."

Harry adds: "We wanted to explore different themes, and we were talking about retribution and the law, and trying to put the audience into the heads of these characters who are pushed to a really unimaginable place."

Joanna Vanderham, who made her name in The Paradise, plays Adam's sister Claire. "She's very much the moral one, and is constantly surprised and shocked by how the people she's closest to react to what's happened," says the Scottish actress.

Recalling reading the script for the first time, she adds: "I was never at one point ahead of the plot. I was chasing the story as I read it."

Vanderham reveals she felt she was "blagging" her audition, however. "I was not wholly confident I could do it. Then I got the job, and every day you think you've not to let this wonderful company down," she continues. "And grief, especially, is a very specific form of sadness. You never want to play a scene with a generic sadness."

But despite the challenging subject matter, there was "a lot of time spent messing around" on set, not least when shooting the storm scenes: "We had these very sexy waterproofs under our clothes to try and protect us. They didn't work. As soon as you bent down, the rain went down your back, so you were in a balloon of water."

The Fall's John Lynch plays Bill, Grace's grieving father. "The director and I talked a lot about the fact he's spent so much of his life in this landscape... that he has in a way become part of it, become distant from those around him, become isolated," explains the actor, who grew up in Newry.

He credits director William McGregor for capturing the immensity of the geographical backdrop. "These people are suffering these huge emotions, but are small within that land," says Lynch. "Landscape and environment informs character and behaviour and emotion. When people are living close together, secrets become a currency.

"I think that's what Jack and Harry capture really well. Secrets between families become explosive and useful and important."

Acclaimed actress Juliet Stevenson, who plays Adam's mother Louise, reveals there was no room for vanity on this project. "The lack of glamour is extreme," she exclaims, laughing. "We look exhausted - no make-up and red-rimmed eyes."

Juliet has played many grieving characters during her career and had previously vowed not to do any more, but says: "When this came about, I thought, 'I must not do this job'. But I couldn't resist it in the end."

The Essex-born mother-of-two admits she found the shoot tough. "It's always good to take risks, especially when you've been working for quite a long time, but the death of a child is... I wouldn't even want to think about how to play that," Stevenson adds.

"But you have to. You have to take your imagination to places you don't want to take it, because that's the job."

Joe Dempsie is no stranger to filming in remote locations, having appeared in Game Of Thrones, but there were marked differences shooting this.

"Yeah, I wasn't oiled up like some sort of porno blacksmith!" he quips. "But no, the scale of something like Game Of Thrones... the story's so expansive, you can only check in on each group of characters for about five minutes every episode. You just scratch the surface of a character. This is a really intense character study."

Joe plays Rob, the elder brother of Adam and Claire. "He's a man of strong morals, but that makes him do amoral things," explains 29-year-old Dempsie, who grew up in Nottingham.

"The first time you see him, he's being told of the brutal murder of his brother while stalking the rapist of his girlfriend (played by Georgina Campbell), so I think it's safe to say he's a man with issues."

For Dempsie, the great appeal was that "I don't think any of the plot feels shoehorned in".

"It's character-driven, and every character has their own agenda and motivation.

One Of Us, BBC One, Tuesday, 9pm

Belfast Telegraph

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