“Oooh… Aaaah….” Both are appropriate interjections upon the end-credits of episode one of UK’s The Secret (available now on SBS On Demand) – a premiere that doesn’t need foreboding music or a moody tone to get under your skin.
The premise is simple – a man and his lover consider murdering their partners. But it’s how the tale is treated that makes this miniseries a winner.
The Secret is set in an ultra-devout Baptist community, where routine politeness and formality is the only way to converse and fundamentalist interpretations of Bible-verses carry more weight than state law. Sermons are joyous sing-alongs where each member wears a permanent smile, and clarify their comprehensive servitude to every supposedly uttered word of their Christian God.
The Bible: A text ripe for any interpretation for any justification
Throughout the pilot, characters offer up advice in the form of bible quotes. In fact, a conflict between Nesbitt and the pastor (pictured above) is merely a battle of bible verses. These are people who live by the meaning gleaned from the bible, and not everyone takes away the same messages.
Our anti-hero and local dentist Colin Howell (Nesbitt) travels the first episode as an anomaly – someone with a saintly demeanour in the community, known for his warm counsel and hymn performances at church. When alone, however, Howell’s eyes harden, or darken, or grow confused, suggesting unaddressed passions and urges caged within.
The Sunday School teacher
Howell's inner drive sends him on a romantic pursuit of Sunday School teacher Hazel Buchanan (Genevieve O’Reilly), a god-fearing queen of the status quo. Howell’s lusting after Hazel awakens something in her, even if her heart hasn’t caught up to the sin she knows she’s set to commit. It’s a brilliant performance – suggesting a potential for evil while still coming across as innocent and virtuous, but in a far subtler fashion than her lover.
Both Colin and Hazel's spouses are deeply in love with their cheating partners, and within such a microdot of a community, the Baptist elders quickly intervene and enforce mediated verbal apologies and handshakes of forgiveness. The lovers agree to never see each other again and stay true to the sanctity of marriage.
The alternative solution
This could be seen as a spoiler, but as it’s in the show’s logline, what’s done is done. Turns out Howell is the kind of man who knows the Bible so well he can bend a phrase to suit his will. In this case the term ‘ending their suffering’ enters an illicit conversation between the rule-bending Baptists.
James Nesbitt’s acting chops
The range displayed by the thespian in the first episode is quite astonishing – suggesting conflicting ideologies, or at least, two starkly different approaches to interpreting religious literature playing out behind his eyes. One is noble and obedient; committed to a virtuous interpretation of God’s words, and the other re-defines passages to suit his will with enough conviction to send a shiver up the spine.
Genevieve O’Reilly’s seemingly conflicted Sunday School teacher
O’Reilly has the telling face of a young Glen Close, nailing her want to remain in the relative utopia of the cheery Baptist church, while grappling with the impulse to rebel and express her organic feelings as separate to her beliefs.
It’s based on a true story
The two abandoned partners are found dead. The police rule it a suicide pact. Cue The Secret. If you want to know how the story behind the show went down, Google can spoil it for you, but if you’re able to put the research on pause until the end of the fourth and final episode, chances are it’ll be far more rewarding.
Just watch it
I have no qualms recommending this show to everyone I pass on the street. It’s unsettling in its calmness, disturbing in its doctrine, and headed up by a chilling performance that’ll stay visible even when you close your eyes.
The Secret starts Wednesday, 7 September at 9:30pm (AEST) on SBS. The entire series is available on SBS On Demand.
Watch the first episode of right here: