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The Secret: Compelling drama... but should ITV show have been made at all?

The Secret: Episode 3, ITV

By Fionola Meredith

Published 14/05/2016

Genevieve O’Reilly as Hazel Buchanan
Genevieve O’Reilly as Hazel Buchanan

Last week's episode of The Secret, ITV's increasingly controversial dramatisation of the double murder of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan, showed how the killings were done and brazenly covered up. Last night's episode - the third of four - concentrated on the long aftermath in the lives of the murderers.

As if we didn't know it by now, Colin Howell (chillingly played by James Nesbitt) was clearly a man devoid of a conscience, sweeping Lesley's few bits of colourful jewellery into a bin-bag and calling the insurance company to see how much money he would be able to get his hands on as a result of her death.

Hazel Buchanan (Genevieve O'Reilly), his co-conspirator and willing accomplice, was doing less well. Nervy and tearful in her white flower-sprigged pyjamas, ever-present cross gleaming gold at her neck, Hazel was overwhelmed by guilt - though clearly not so much that she considered going to the police - and found herself unable to go to bed with Howell.

"He sees us," she whimpered, on a night away at a hotel, clearly identifiable as the Culloden in Cultra. "Who?" asked Howell, bewildered. "God," she said. "Of course He does," answered Howell confidently. "He sees everything, but He wouldn't give us this love if He didn't want us to be together."

Howell was always ready with one of these divinely ordained assurances, which seemed to have worked well enough when he was persuading Hazel to get rid of her husband; less so afterwards.

"I have taken a mother from her children, but God will provide for them," he declared with his usual brand of pompous, highly-warped logic. "And I only hope and pray that you are the one He provides."

When the twisted reasoning didn't do the trick, Howell turned to a pharmacological solution, drugging Hazel (with her consent) so that she felt able to have sex with him. This bizarre interlude was echoed later when the outwardly pious Howell sexually assaulted a sedated young patient in his dentist's chair, before rushing home to host a prayer meeting. All of these scenes were lurid and disturbing to watch. Despite the monstrous violence, loss and deception, it turned out that Hazel wasn't "the one" for Howell after all.

In the fast-moving final moments of this episode Howell met, married and had a child with an American woman, Kyle Jorgensen, who became complicit in the secret of the double murders.

Howell was convinced he had been forgiven: "God brought you to me," he told Kyle. "He has given us a new son and that proves I am finally on the right path." But when news came through of his son Matthew's death in a freak accident, that psychotic self-belief finally began to unravel.

Victims' campaigners, MPs and now even the Prime Minister David Cameron have been drawn into the row over whether The Secret should ever have been made at all. It has undoubtedly caused enormous hurt to Lauren Bradford, Lesley Howell's daughter. She has written eloquently about the retraumatising effect that the drama had on her.

There are important questions to answer. Should victims have the power of veto over dramatisations of their family lives? How soon after such a terrible tragedy can it legitimately be turned into a television drama: 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? Never?

Can such adaptations ever arrive at something approximating to the truth? Or will they inevitably be partial, distorted, incomplete?

There are no easy answers to these questions. But whatever the morality of ITV's telling of this disturbing tale, it remains compelling viewing.

Belfast Telegraph

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