Tuesday, 10 September 2013
Analysing 'What Remains' BBC drama
As I am writing a crime novel at present I find I am fascinated by well written crime and how writers create a gripping plot and characters. Myself, I'm not one for lots of action, give me a good story though and I'm hooked. I have found 'What Remains' gripping for a number of reasons which I believe can apply to novels just as to TV drama. The last episode of this great whodunit airs this Sunday, and the DVD will be available soon. The plot is very simple. A young woman's long dead mummified body has been found in the attic of an old house which is split up into flats. Many of the inhabitants have been tangled up in her life but no one cared enough to even worry where she had gone to when she disappeared. The reason I'd recommend it to crime writers is as follows. First and foremost the Detective brilliantly underplayed by David Threlfall. We immediately sympathise with Detective Len Harper for a number of reasons that are a lesson in 'layering' your characters and making them interesting. Firstly, we feel sorry for him because he is just about to retire from the job he loves and leaving his workmates who respect and admire him. He's obviously good at his job and it is compelling to have characters who are good at what they do, whatever they do, even if they are contract killers (remember the James Fox character in the 'Day of the Jackal'). DI Harper loves his job so much that even after his last day, he's back at the scene of the crime, not having told the inhabitants of the house that he actually has no right any longer to be there. The reason? He's the only person who cares a jot about the girl who died. Another tick in the box for him as a fascinating character. He's a champion of the weak and oppressed. He's the sort of person we'd like to be if only we had the time, if only we didn't have other commitments etc etc. He is the person we want a hero to be and we are convinced right from the beginning that with his skills and determination he will give that lonely dead girl justice. Poor Detective Harper lives on his own having lost his wife only a year before. We really want him to have friends because he's a good guy and one of the most touching scenes was where he arranges for his neighbour to come round for a drink and the other guy just forgets and never turns up. This is perfect show don't tell stuff. DI Harper doesn't mope around feeling sorry for himself or knock on the neighbour's door making a nuisance of himself, but he does consume a fair quantity of whiskey and we know that being snubbed in this way is rough. We therefore cheer inwardly when he unexpectedly scores with a nice woman at the archery class he goes to and we know there is at least one night when DI Harper didn't sleep in a cold lonely bed! Other examples of layering of his character is the way he deals with the hideous young teenager who has been into the dead girls flat and scrawled mean graffiti on her wall. The cocky kid is grabbed in an arm lock by DI Harper and told in no uncertain terms what a little **** (insert 4 letter word of your choice here) he is. You've been waiting for 3 episodes for someone to do that to the little turd. A hugely compelling factor to this story is that you know Detective Harper only has a limited amount of time to catch his killer. Sooner or later people will discover he's no longer a bona fide member of the Force and he'll either have to find his killer or stop asking questions. A time constraint is an extremely useful device for any story because it ups the tension no end. You only have to think of countless wonderful movies such as 'Limitless' with the superb Bradley Cooper to know how giving a clearly defined mission in a story a time limit puts the reader or viewer on the edge of their seat thinking, will he make it, won't he? There, I had thought I would cover all the characters in one (slightly too long) blog post but in fact there are so many layers to the one main character that I've gone on much longer than I thought I would. The episodes are still available on BBC I-player and the last one is this Sunday. I shall be watching again, just to garner all the elements I can of what makes good drama!