'Everyone hopes that they'll get their child's body back'
It's back for a highly anticipated third series, but just what's in store for the stars of crime drama Unforgotten? Gemma Dunn finds out more
Crime drama fans rejoice: ITV gripper Unforgotten is back with a whole host of new suspects to sift through. The primetime hit - penned by screenwriter Chris Lang and hailed as the "best detective drama of the decade" - will see dream team DCI Cassie Stuart and DI Sunny Khan (played by Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, respectively) return for a third run as they investigate another emotionally charged cold case.
"We discover a body that has been buried beside a motorway," Bhaskar (54) reveals of the six-part run. "The motorway construction workers discover it while doing some repair work on the road.
"We then find out that it was a young girl who went missing at the turn of the millennium - New Year's Eve 1999."
It differs to previous seasons, he maintains, "because, in this one, the investigation centres around four friends and their families who rented a holiday home near where a young girl went missing. These four men have been friends for years, all of them are supportive of each other and they are all still fairly close. The investigation becomes centred around those characters and their families".
Much like its predecessors, the latest Unforgotten instalment plays host to a line-up of acclaimed British actors - and what a selection it is.
Alex Jennings, Kevin McNally, Neil Morrissey and James Fleet join forces to star as four former school friends who, having stood by one another through thick and thin, find their relationships tested to the limit.
For Walker (48), welcoming newbies into the fold is one of her favourite parts of the role.
"I actually did my first ever job with James Fleet in Four Weddings And A Funeral, which I am in for a blink," she recalls. "I met James there and have done plays with him since. I think he is absolutely remarkable in this show.
"I had also worked with Alex Jennings on Spooks, but I hadn't worked with Neil Morrissey, or Kevin McNally, before, so that was exciting.
"That is always one of the best bits about this job - doing those first few scenes when we knock on the door with the new suspects behind it, knowing you are going to go on this interesting and long journey with them."
While the whodunnit drama is obliged to check certain boxes - there's a body, tick, and suspects, tick - that's where the similarity ends.
First off, the case investigated this series is the most recent to date, with the victim having gone missing only 18 years earlier (previous series harked back 30 to 40 years).
This affects the team's approach to the case, explains Walker.
"There is the complication that everyone they speak to when trying to identify the body is hoping it is their child and that after all of these years they will be able to bury a body," says The Split actress. "For many, many people, it is in living memory and that makes the case incredibly complex.
"In the past, that distance of time has probably allowed the team to step back a little. But this year, Cassie warns them that they will have to tread extremely gently, because it is all very recent."
Another addition to the TV favourite is the exploration of the Press and social media.
"Everyone jumps on social media to proffer an opinion of some sort nowadays and this series looks at the impact that has on the investigation itself," says Bhaskar.
"It used to be that people got their information through newspapers, and if you wanted to make a comment, you either made it to your friends in a pub, or you wrote to a newspaper. The reach of those things is quite limited, whereas now you can put it on social media and it goes around the world."
"I got to have scenes with a media consultant, which I loved," adds Walker, "because it's so high-profile, this case. It's one of those ones that would have just been mass media coverage. But 18 years ago, social media was non-existent.
"Now, that's another angle that I think Chris is really asking us to have a conversation about: social media's impact on suppositions about who may be guilty before a case has actually been followed through and taken to court."
With four suspects to mull over, just how easy is it to join the dots, then?
"lt would be a mistake to think of there being four suspects," Bhaskar says, with a smile. "There are four key people of interest, but there are more people around it.
"When I got the first script, I really thought, 'Oh, it was that person' and then the pages turn and I think, 'No, it's her. Or him. Or everyone.'"
Unforgotten, ITV, Sunday, 9pm