And… breathe! I just had to take some time out to rave about the latest drama from one of my all-time favourite actors, John Simm. ‘Prey’ , in case you have been living under a rock for the past month and have managed to avoid all the trailers, is a three-part drama from writer Chris Lunt, via Red Productions. (Nicola Schindler, Tom Sherry and Nick Murphy also had something to do with it…) For a couple of weeks now, ITV’s press campaign #jointhehunt, #prey, has been ramping up the suspense, offering us trailers on telly and online, and even (unique as far as I’m aware) a competition to find two copies of episode one ahead of transmission – hidden in suitably altered phone boxes in London and Manchester for two lucky winners. It must have been a difficult campaign to pace (I imagined many conferences similar but hopefully not too much like those in ‘W1A’) – too little and you don’t get it ‘out there’, too much and you risk annoying people (but I only saw a couple or three complaints on twitter, and two of them may have been tongue-in-cheek). I think they got it just right (not that I’m an expert or anything, you understand). By the time 9pm on Monday 28th April rolled around, twitter had been abuzz for days with ‘I can’t wait for #prey’ tweets.
Well, I may be biased, because I’ve enjoyed literally everything I have ever seen John Simm do, but I thought ‘Prey’ was sensational. I’m not going to do a fan-girl job on this, partly because I’m far from being a girl anymore (I have twelve years on John Simm, and I’m happily married – so, incidentally, is he!) but because it deserves more. I’ve been studying creative writing for the past year, and in my humble-and-still-learning opinion as a novice and unpublished writer, ‘Prey’ is a master class (you’ll hear that word said a lot about this drama, if you haven’t already) in so many things but principally: writing, direction, acting. If just one of those elements had been off, ‘Prey’ wouldn’t, I am sure, have still been trending three hours after transmission. Many tweeters have opined that there should and must be BAFTAs, and I agree.
The Writing: Newcomer (although in fact he has been writing since 2010, but ‘Prey’ is his first to make the screen) Chris Lunt’s script doesn’t waste a single word, if what we see on screen is what was on the page (I don’t doubt that it is). It starts with a bang, immediately making the viewer ask of protagonist Marcus Farrow ‘who is this man?’ He’s clearly on his way to jail, so why is he stopping to help a fellow prisoner (all the more remarkable when you later learn just how that blue biro got into his shoulder) and the injured van driver before going on the run? The answer, we quickly learn via a series of short but incredibly detailed scenes, is that he is a copper, a family man, and a decent human being. We learn very quickly that he didn’t kill his wife, or his youngest son. Knowing what he does about police procedure, Farrow realises that the way the evidence is stacking up means that it isn’t looking good for a reunion with his surviving son, Finn. And all this before the second advert break! Talk about Making Every Word Count – every single one in this episode really earned their keep. I particularly liked the economy of the voice-over reading the charges as we see Farrow being loaded into the police van on his way to remand prison; and how, following Farrow’s discovery of his wife Abi as she lays dying, the next time we see him he is being relentlessly questioned by the SIO (Rosie Cavillero), thus dispensing with the usual arrest scene and the closing of the cell door on an innocent man – perhaps the screen equivalent of a literary cliché but often used to good effect. This soon gets us back to those opening scenes, and gallops on from there. There was some natural humour in the setting-up scenes but for me the most unexpected and delightful example came when Farrow asks a terrified pensioner whose home he has barged into if he has ‘a bandage, anything like that?’ ‘I-I’ve got some germolene …’ that made me laugh out loud, because it was so natural. Farrow’s ‘I’m really sorry about this,’ was also a lovely touch. He’s shocked, in pain, desperate, but he still thinks to reassure the poor bloke who doesn’t know what the hell is going on or why a madman covered in blood is standing in his kitchen… these are real people, with real words. Lovely. I’m taking notes.
The Directing: A lot has been said pre-transmission about how ‘Prey’ was shot with minimal equipment and crew (two vans and a minibus was apparently all it took to move the unit around the locations in Manchester and its environs), to achieve a documentary, fly-on-the-wall effect. I thought this was very effective. None of the stuff you normally get with a thriller – the slow, dramatic build up, complete with music (cue subtly brilliant score by Daniel Pemberton) that tells us what to expect next. It was just like real life – you’re going about your day when Something Nasty Happens – sudden, brutal, horrible, with no warning that your world is about to be turned upside down. (Okay, maybe there was a little hint with the score for that scene, but it was very subtle) In writing terminology, I think the most harrowing scenes feel like a close psychic distance 4 (for an explanation of the term see: http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/psychic-distance-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html ) and that has to be down in part to the simplicity of the shooting style (not saying it was simple – just that it appears that way) – there are no filters. What you see is what happened, and it’s brilliant.
The Acting: Nominations for Best Actor: John Simm: this has to happen. I could enthuse for pages about what Chris Lunt and director Nick Murphy called ‘THAT’ scene on Twitter, where Farrow learns that his youngest son Max is dead – but all I’m going to say is that it will surely resonate with every parent –the hope that you’ve misunderstood because this awful thing cannot really have happened, the realisation that it has, the struggling to comprehend the enormity… and then the breakdown. I almost forgot to breathe, and when the scene ended, discovered that my fists were clenched tight. Truly a harrowing, heart-stopping moment. What a brilliant performance (and I agree with everyone who said that it was a master class in grief from Mr Simm).
The Music: Daniel Pemberton’s very subtle score was a real breath of fresh air – we get so used to music pointing the way (and I’m not saying I think it shouldn’t – some of my favourite tunes are soundtracks) but sometimes it can be quite intrusive. This was perfect – and it never intruded.
I’m hoping that ‘Prey’ will be released on DVD very soon (with lots of extras – like how they managed to convincingly run John Simm over with a van, roll him in a truck, and have him narrowly miss being pulped by a speeding train – I LOVE ‘behind the scenes’ documentaries, find it all fascinating). In the meantime, ITV are repeating it this Saturday at 9.35pm and I have it recorded…
Conclusion: ground-breaking telly, don’t miss it! Prey, Mondays on ITV from 28th April at 9pm
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Monday 5th May – ‘Prey’ Episode 2, ITV 9pm
Well, that was -and I didn’t believe it was possible- if anything, MORE tense than episode 1… Am enjoying how this is unfolding, and am actually beginning to gain some sympathy for Susan Reinhardt now – I think (particularly following the twist at the end with Mac and the discs, that Susan and Marcus will end up helping each other… I felt really bad for her (and for Marcus) when he knocked her out…love that he apologised first though!
As for Mac – now her attitude to Reinhardt in episode 1 begins to make sense – but have to say I really didn’t see that coming. Things are probably going to hot up even more in episode 3 when Reinhardt asks Mac about the floppy disc… Not sure so much about Devlin now – seems he may just be between a rock and hard place, but interesting that Finn obviously didn’t trust him and being a smart lad realised that Devlin couldn’t be in the room and emailing him at the same time so it had to be his dad… I had been wondering if Devlin could have killed Abi and Max … I don’t think he did, but he may have led Lomax’s goons there. I don’t know what to think, but love how it is completely not obvious yet.
And poor, beleaguered Marcus – I mean, is he sleeping? Where is he sleeping? We haven’t seen him eat yet, either – pretty sure that, in the context of the imaginary ‘thousand hours of footage’ director Nick Murphy spoke of at the RTS Q & A recently, he must have done both, but he has to be close to collapse by now – have slightly lost track of the days but think it may be two going on three.. would not be surprised if his wound is infected, what with hiding in rubbish bins and wading through cold muddy water – how much more can he take?
Tune in to ITV at 9pm next Monday, 12th May for the conclusion…. it’s sure to be a corker!