Warning! Spoilers for Episode 1 lie beneath!
Even before the first shadow crosses the screen Requiem is creeping me out. It’s so obviously a Sunday night drama and should have been on over Christmas for full wintery effect. But for some unknown reason it’s on BBC1 on Friday nights in February. Never mind all that though, that’s an old-fashioned way of thinking about scheduling. Who cares what day it broadcasts when it’s all up on iPlayer to watch straight away.
I’d clocked the adverts but decided it wasn’t for me. Ghosts just don’t frighten me at all. I’d much rather Scooby don’t than Scooby Doo. The genre is so well-trodden and cliche-riddled that the only gasp you’ll get from me is a sigh as I find the remote and click the button. That whole haunted house brand has termites and it’s falling to pieces. But such a high quality cast turned my head and I watched it with a ‘may as well’ shrug as a chaser after yet another disappointing Euro drama (oh Modus, what’s happened to you?).
Requiem looks gorgeous and sounds fantastic. The opening credits are a Royal Blood album cover and the music is part classical emotions, part jarring shuddering electronics, as if the Terminator was in a string quartet. This isn’t just an interesting score; this is fundamental to the story. Matilda (Lydia Wilson) is a successful cellist, riding high with her pianist Hal (Joel Fry, wonderful in everything, recognisable from Game of Thrones where he’s got a similar complicated relationship with a powerful blonde) in hipster London, her haircut, flat and career fitting in nicely to that group of people who hate fitting in. Her lovely Mum Janice (the exceptional Joanna Scanlon, last seen as fearless matriarch Viv Deering in No Offence) is sad they’re spending more time apart, but delighted for her success. Matilda seems restless, her one-night stands interrupted by nightmares of an imprisoned girl.
And her nightmares start to bleed into the day. Don’t get attached to Janice. In what could be an 80s industrial music video, ballgowned women chase each other through dark brutalist architecture culminating in poor Matilda watches her mother’s bloody suicide. I’m worried now about the lovely Joel Fry, clearly her best friend in the world. He probably won’t last five minutes. He wants to fix her because he loves her, but he also has one eye on the New York tour dates that are under threat as she tries to deal with her new orphan status.
In a pre-credit scene we see that this ghost likes breaking glass and breaking mirrors before it breaks your spirit. Is the supernatural pushing people to the edge or is it the guilt of a secret hidden for over 20 years? Turns out poor dead Janice was somehow linked to the case of a missing 4-year-old back in 1994. She kept a shoe box of newspaper cuttings and photos which Matilda finds post mortem. This begins a journey to a small Welsh village where Matilda is determined to dig up the past to figure out why her Mum died. Handily the townspeople are at a funeral and all arranged on the hillside like Easter Island figures when they rock up to the valley.
The Mum of the missing girl trying to move on with her life is played by Claire Rushbrook (most recently seen in Kiri) and her new fella is Richard Harrington, household favorite as DCI Tom Mathias in Hinterland. Unsurprisingly neither of them are a fan of two Londoners coming around dredging up the past for no clear reason.
Cellos are great for a spooky soundtrack. It’s a good job Matilda wasn’t a euphonium prodigy. But who on earth brings their cello on a road trip to Wales. Does she think people will request a performance in the pub? Bit of Land of My Fathers with a male voice choir and solo cellist accompaniment? Maybe it’s an idea for their next album. Radio 2 would bloody love it.
Matilda and Hal get talking to a hot Aussie bloke with a dead Great Uncle (another unexplained suicide) and a newly inherited mansion. He’s new to town and out of his depth too. 8 bedrooms, 6 baths, half an acre of land and a bunch of ghosts. He’s smug, as the very nouveau riche tend to be and looks a bit sketchy to me – why is he being so hospitable and agreeing so readily with Matilda’s crazy theories? Is it just to get in her pants? Has he considered growing a beard and opening a cereal cafe in Shoreditch? That might attract her attention.
So at the end of episode 1 we’re left wondering what’s going on in the mansion’s X-Files basement? Was the late Great Uncle a ghost hunter or is there something more sinister going on? Does Matilda have a personal connection to the missing girl, or is grief making her say the craziest things?
Requiem has a nice tone with great atmosphere. The drama and suspense build well and the believable emotions the characters bring ground the spooky happenings in reality. Matilda is not your regular week and feeble female haunting victim – she’s surprisingly confident and resourceful when needs be. Long may this continue. The real shock of Requiem is that I like it. It’s completely bingeable. Here’s hoping the rest of the series builds on this very strong opener.
Requiem is on BBC1 on Friday nights at 9pm, but don’t worry – it’s all on iPlayer right now for a weekend binge.