This week’s Silent Witness gives us a good old fashioned prison conspiracy headily infused with multiple narrative levels, emotional blackmail and vicious brutality, as well as a brilliant rendering of a classic mystery-story attribute that is harder and harder to achieve convincingly nowadays: a culprit that you never suspect for one second.
When a semi-intoxicated Leo stumbles upon a dying prison inspector, he starts to uncover the whole murderous mess that got her killed in the first place. The suspicious death of a child murderer at the disreputable Redhill prison, his suspiciously-helpful sister, the dirt-spattered service record of gratuitously violent prison guard Daniel Kessler (Leo Gregory) and an overconfident DI who seems just a bit too eager to look the other way all create a sinister silence on the subject of the prison that is eventually shattered into a million pieces by disembodied screams of indignation as to what is actually happening inside its walls. While immersing himself in these issues surrounding the prison system, Leo tries harder and harder to ignore his own feeling of being a nomad in the composition of his own life, a feeling that gives him a perpetual aura of bursting at the seams with emotions too complicated to classify. Each separate thread of this complex tapestry is perfectly singled out and incorporated into the sprawling whole with great skill by screenwriter Ed Whitmore in what I would not hesitate to call the best episode this season.
Leo Gregory is the undisputed star of the show as prison guard Kessler: a towering and utterly repulsive screen presence, his mad unpredictability, threats and usually horrific outbursts of violence embodying this show’s characteristic ability to use the threats and sounds of violence to create an atmosphere that is infinitely more horrible than an actual portrayal of the violence itself could ever be. His character, however, also gets to spend a lot of time perpetrating this violence as well as threatening it, so expect a considerable assault on both your nerves and your retinae. Gregory’s ability to make an audience avert its face along with a character is truly impressive, and this capacity to get right into an audience’s space will no doubt serve him well on whatever material he sinks his teeth into in future.
This episode also gives William Gaminara a chance to make Leo the most interesting that he ever gets without you wanting to punch the stuffiness out of him, and his statement to his partner Janet at the end of the episode, ‘I just don’t live here anymore,’ is a moving and evocative statement as to Leo’s feelings regarding his place in the world. In the course of season 15, he’s become more and more unpredictable, but it is in this episode more than any other that we truly witness a vision of a man who has seen too much and has finally given up. His life ended with the lives of his wife and child, and I think that in this episode, he realises that in spite of all his efforts, he’s not getting it back. The police aren’t going to arrive faster; criminals aren’t going to stop murdering women and children; and the world is never going to be just. We’ll just have to see where this realisation takes him; if anywhere.
Beautifully and disturbingly filmed, well-acted and even more brilliantly written, Redhill is physical and emotional violence incarnate; an original, perfectly-structured, fresh and new spin on a very old, yet eternally relevant question.
It has come to my attention that the idiots at BBC Entertainment seem to be screening this season of Silent Witness in the wrong order. The episode numbers in my review titles will therefore not correspond with official episode lists.