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Home Life Weekend

In law, there is the accused and the victim. But the reality is not that simple, as a new BBC drama explores.

'It is the darkest role I've played... I will need to find a comedy now!'

Kelly Macdonald stars in four-part drama The Victim this week
Kelly Macdonald stars in four-part drama The Victim this week
John Hannah stars in four-part drama The Victim this week

By Georgia Humphreys

Standing on the set of The Victim, it's easy to feel completely immersed in the world of this new legal thriller. To get around the difficulty of filming in a real courtroom, the production team recreated the High Court in Edinburgh in the Possilpark area of Glasgow (they shot scenes in Glasgow City Chambers, too).

And the detail of the interiors - from the marble walls to the judge's platform - is impressive, as is the cast of Scottish talent they have on board: Kelly Macdonald, James Harkness and John Hannah.

As for the plot, you'll be hooked after episode one; it looks at a case within the Scottish legal system and, told through the eyes of the plaintiff and the accused, asks who really is "the victim"?

Fifteen years ago, the son of Macdonald's character, Anna Dean, was murdered. In the first episode, we see hard-working family man Craig Myers (Harkness) attacked, after being identified on social media as the killer of Anna's son.

The question is: is he actually a convicted murderer? Or is it a case of mistaken identity?

Meanwhile, Hannah takes on the role of DI Steven Grover, who's in charge of the criminal investigation into the attack, which results in a trial.

On playing Anna, Trainspotting star Macdonald (43) explains: "This story is really her desperate attempt to make it right for her son and all the grey areas and fallout from this one act.

"She's got absolutely no respect for the police, she's lost faith, they kept things from her and she doesn't really know what happened, so she's gone off on her own."

"I wouldn't say I'm a victim, I'd say I've been the victim of a smear campaign," reflects 29-year-old Harkness, when discussing his character. "This stuff used to happen when I grew up (in Glasgow's Gorbals district). If someone was an enemy of the area, they'd put posters up of this one person, it would be everywhere. It's horrible."

It becomes apparent early on that Craig has had "a bit of a tough beginning".

"But he's a hard worker, he loves his family, he loves his daughter, loves his wife, loves driving buses, loves the freedom of it," says Harkness, whose previous acting credits include the film Macbeth.

Meanwhile, it's clear Anna can't get past the fact her son's murderer served so little time in prison and is now able to carry on with their life under a new identity.

"It makes her into a crazed person, she teeters on mental illness in places," says Macdonald, also known for small-screen roles in shows such as US drama Boardwalk Empire.

But the fact Anna "doesn't behave impeccably" was actually what appealed to her as an actress.

"She's not a goody-two-shoes, which is something I get cast as sometimes, so that felt like something I really wanted to do."

Hannah, who found fame with films Four Weddings and a Funeral and Sliding Doors, and TV programmes A Touch of Cloth and Spartacus, admits there was a time in his career when he said "no more cop shows".

With DI Grover, though, the 56-year-old saw a different kind of role.

"I always thought there was a paradox with police drama; that we're often asked to see the police officers as carrying emotional baggage and being affected by it.

"But I think the reality of the police is they have to become distanced from their own emotions, which I think is a huge problem for them in that profession. The paradox being, when you write about them, they're emoting all over the place.

"I liked the fact there was none of that with this character. He's hidden from it and trying not to take a stance."

Hannah adds that, when reading the script, "it seemed almost like a dramatised documentary" as "it didn't necessarily have the usual tropes of a thriller."

"It's quite complex in what it's asking an audience to think," he adds.

Macdonald agrees: "It's about the idea that life isn't black-and-white, it's full of these grey areas. You want to play dramatic roles and this is certainly that. This is the darkest role I've had. I probably need to do some comedy after this."

Harkness became a dad for the first time during his audition process for The Victim, which made the role even more appealing.

"I just thought it would be good to play this young dad who's working hard for his family," he explains.

"I'm not relating myself too much to the character, but my granddad was a bus driver, my uncle is a bus driver, so me playing a bus driver, living in Scotland, with a kid, it's like Changing Lanes - if I went another path, is this where I would have been?"

Even though he calls it a "real rough stick area", Harkness is careful not to criticise where he grew up.

He does, however, acknowledge how it was only because of an attack when he was in his teens that he ended up becoming an actor.

"I was involved in acting for a long time and then I left it behind, because my granddad was like, 'You need to get a career in your back pocket'. They've always been supportive, but they always wanted me to have something I could fall back on.

"And then I had a really big fight in Glasgow, at my birthday party, and I sort of acted my way out of the fight.

"My uncle was in jail a lot of his life growing up and it's his way of passing down wisdom to protect people he loves; he was like, 'If you're ever in a life-or-death situation, act like you're a nut-job, because they'll be like, 'Woah'. Don't act scared, basically."

What would he say now to someone young and living in the Gorbals?

"Be who you want to be," he says, matter-of-factly. "And don't let anybody tell you that where you come from should define who you are."

The Victim, BBC One, Monday-Thursday, 9pm

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