Three weeks into ITV’s Colin Howell drama ‘The Secret’ and it is now the source of political controversy.
Earlier this week, director Nick Murphy and writer Stuart Urban’s adaptation of journalist Deric Henderson’s book on the murders of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan was raised by Labour MP Louise Haigh during Prime Minister’s Questions.
And David Cameron has now vowed to raise with the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale concerns from the family of Lesley Howell about the impact of the ITV drama on them.
This was after last week’s episode which recreated the Castlerock murders in harrowing detail.
While there is no doubt that ITV’s drama was always going to reopen difficult memories for the families involved, as a piece of prime time television drama it remains a compelling, if deeply disturbing watch.
Indeed Episode Three saw the story take on an almost Shakespearean tone, as James Nesbitt’s Colin Howell and Genevieve O’Reilly’s Lesley Buchanan continued to plot a life together after murdering their partners and then watched their relationship crumble.
The latest instalment began with Alan McKee’s gormless Detective Inspector questioning both lovers about rumours that they had murdered their spouses.
While both confessed to continuing their affair before the murders, they claimed their infidelity had driven their victims to suicide.
Having steered clear of sex scenes in Episode One and Two, Murphy and Urban’s third episode was much more explicit.
And that made the third instalment as uncomfortable a watch as Episode Two, as Colin Howell and Lesley Buchanan got their kicks from experimenting with gas in the dentist’s chair and from injections.
Evangelical Christian guilt, however, loomed large once more as Hazel Buchanan struggled with their affair.
As Colin and Hazel drifted apart, he became increasingly desperate, hypocritical and self-righteous.
“I have taken a mother from her children but God will provide for them,” Colin declared at one point, still cloaking their murderous betrayal in religious justification.
“I can only hope and pray that you are the one He provides.”
Later, he was quoting from the Second Book of Samuel.
But arguably the most devastating sequence came during a scene where Patrick O’Kane’s Victor Buchanan and his father BJ Hogg’s Jim declared to Hazel during a meal with her in-laws that they had forgiven her for committing adultery and betraying their brother and son.
That was “the Christian thing to do”, they stated, and their genuine act of Christian forgiveness moved Hazel to tears.
As Episode Three rolled through the years, Colin Howell lost hair, founded his own Bible study group, met and married Katherine Kingsley’s Kyle Jorgensen and had a son.
O’Reilly’s Hazel, in the meantime, met and married Stuart Graham’s David Stewart.
In another blood curdling moment from Nesbitt, he confessed to Kyle Jorgensen immediately after the birth of their child that he murdered Lesley and Trevor.
“I am a good man now,” he insisted, claiming God had brought them together by providing a son.
The episode, however, ended with a family tragedy for Colin Howell and a King Lear-like soliloquy on Castlerock beach during which he implored God to cleanse him of his sin.
‘The Secret’s’ heady mix of religion, sex and murder has made this the most jet black of British television dramas.
But it is all the more disturbing because we know these events actually did happen.
Regardless of the controversy, three weeks in and ‘The Secret’ remains a stunningly acted, intelligently directed and a brilliantly written drama.
It may not be to everyone’s taste but it is a truly original and daring drama that continues to shock even those familiar with the tale.
(Dan McGinn is the resident film critic on Belfast 89FM’s ‘Saturday Bites’ programme and has a film and TV blog, They’ll Love It In Pomona – http://loveitinpomona.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1)
Dan McGinn is a journalist who was previously the Ireland Political Editor and Ireland Deputy Editor of the Press Association and has worked for the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and other publications and for TV and radio. He currently works in public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog, They’ll Love It In Pomona covering the latest cinema releases.