“It’s like Midsummer Murders, but without the old people.”
It was thus that Jordan Stephens (of Rizzle Kicks fame) described the latest of E4’s gritty dramas, Glue.
When fourteen-year-old Caleb Bray, a traveller is found dead after ‘a heavy night out’, everyone in the village – from local farmer Jackie to the near-as-sociopathic layabout Rob (Stephens) – must question what their involvement might be. When events rapidly begin to spiral out of control, and the police themselves are involved, it comes down to local girl and police officer Ruth Rosen (Yasmine Paige) to lead a strictly unofficial investigation to find the truth. Everyone is a suspect.
On paper, the formula for the programme seems unbearably trite and done – an isolated village, plenty of drugs, a dead body – but BAFTA-winning writer Jack Thorne makes it all completely original, and there are more twists and turns than the Nürburgring before this murder-mystery is done.
From the first trailer, it was understood that Glue would certainly challenge some perceptions. In eight episodes, a plethora of controversial items are show-cased, ranging from male full-frontal nudity to the full set of four-letter-words, not to mention the random drug-taking (horse-tranquilliser features heavily) and the whole ‘sex-in-a-hedgerow’ premise. In fact, there’s more sex here than Last Tango In Paris, but the fact that they’re doing it on top of a hay-bale rather decreases the significance of it all, and this is one of the few places where the inexperience of the admittedly young cast shines through (it says plenty that the most convincing kiss in the whole enterprise is between two boys).
While the acting may seem at first slightly wooden and perhaps inexperienced, with time some real gems are revealed. Jessie Cave, playing detached, happy-go-lucky Annie, provides some of the only real humour here, and Callum Turner as Eli is a dark, brooding presence with far more baggage than he admits. But it must be said that the real talent here is that of Tommy Lawrence Knight, the ‘victim’ himself. Knight, who previously starred alongside Paige in The Sarah Jane Adventures, makes a lot out of momentary appearances as a hallucination, a flashback and in police documents. With a wry smile and plenty of slightly vague advice, he provides one of the most compelling figures in the entire programme.
On the whole, Thorne can only be lauded for this production: not many writers could create a story of this magnitude and make it seem plausible, but Thorne does both with admirable competence. The subject matter could in other hands seem inappropriate and awkward, but Thorne approaches it honestly and without over-censorship. The audience is gradually drip-fed clues and hints which seem trivial to begin with, but in the end have significance. As the Mentos sponsorship goes, this is ‘Fresh Telly’.