You didn’t have to be Einstein to work out that the new period drama on BBC TWO entitled Death and Nightingales, was not going to be a right bundle of laughs.
Set in Fermanagh in the north of Ireland in 1885, this is a story by Allan Cubitt, adapted from Eugene McCabe’s 1992 novel. It is told over the course of twenty-four hours and has a stellar lead cast that includes Jamie Dornan, Anne Skelly and Matthew Rhys.
Expectations were therefore pretty high as it started. Overall, it wasn’t perfect but it was definitely a great piece of work. This is coming from a reviewer who is not a massive fan of period dramas either.
The pace of the narrative was a touch on the slow side at times. Furthermore, I also personally found some of the dialogue hard to understand on occasions.
Nevertheless, the fantastic mesmerising performances from Anne Skelly and the exceptional Matthew Rhys, are what drove this drama forwards and made it so compelling and watchable.
Hands up time, I initially only watched this drama because I am such a massive fan of Welsh actor Matthew Rhys. He is that good of an actor that even if I saw him do a double-glazing advert then I would probably think him worthy of an Oscar for it. He was absolutely incredible as Philip Jennings, in the much critically acclaimed US Russian spy drama The Americans.
In Death and Nightingales, he plays a baddie in the form of a wicked strict step-father character called Billy Winters. This description does not do the writer or Matthew any real justice though. Billy is a much more rounded character than just your archetypal baddie. There was something decent and likeable about him, even though we soon became aware of his forced affections upon his step-daughter Beth(Anne Skelly).
In contrast to this love hate relationship between Billy and Beth, we saw Beth soon become besotted with Jamie Dornan’s character, Liam Ward. Liam we think likes Beth, or does he have ulterior motives for wanting to run away with Beth? Beth told him that Billy had this huge stash of gold in his safe. The plan is to rob Billy and then run off into the sunset together.
Therefore, you could argue this is a love story, a story about revenge and also a story about deception. For me, there was this great underlying narrative tension throughout which made for pulsating viewing. Will Billy’s bad temper erupt at any given moment? Will Beth get away with her plan to escape the clutches of her suffocating step-father?
As the ending credits rolled it felt like not that much had happened, but what had happened had been extremely gripping. The direction of Beth staring directly into the camera lens at us at the start and the ending was a really powerful acting tool to use.
All-in-all, a gripping first episode of a drama that is definitely worth sticking with! 4/5.