• Jake (Jamie Sives), Max (Mark Bonnar) in ‘Guilt’. (SBS)Source: SBS
Two brothers. One dead body. A crime that just won’t stay covered up.
Anthony Morris

10 Jun 2021 - 9:43 AM  UPDATED 10 Jun 2021 - 10:51 AM

There’s an old saying: two can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Which is a bit of a problem for Edinburgh brothers Jake (Jamie Sives) and Max (Mark Bonnar), because Guilt has barely begun before the pair – driving home through Edinburgh after a few too many drinks at a wedding – run over and kill a man.

If anything is going to put a person to the test, it’s (accidental) murder. Jake, a scruffy musician turned scruffy record store owner, is instantly devastated by what’s happened. But if people always did the right thing we wouldn’t have any drama, and his older brother Max (who just happens to be a lawyer, and already we know what’s coming here), figures what’s done is done. A man is dead and that’s a tragedy, but it’d be even worse if his death ruined the lives of two men who, looked at one very specific way, are basically innocent. Right?

The fact this series is called Guilt is a pretty big hint that things aren’t going to get easier for either brother. Even though they have an initial stroke of luck – when they take the dead man back into his home, it turns out he was terminally ill anyway, so everyone will think he just passed away from natural causes – you don’t have to look at the duo twice to know that these are men who will somehow find very different ways to screw things up for each other. (And that’s before they start slinging insults at each other; fans of inventive swearing will find a lot to enjoy here, and the Scottish accent only sharpens the dialogue’s bite.)

Jake is clearly the nice guy of the duo (aside from the whole running someone over thing), which puts him at a disadvantage from the start. He’s the one who insists on seeing the dead man as a human being rather than a problem; he’s the one who leaves his wallet at the scene of the crime. He’s even the one who finds himself falling for the dead man’s American niece Angie (Ruth Bradley) when she comes into his store (she’s inherited her uncle’s record collection). It could almost be the start of a rom-com, if the comedy wasn’t pitch black.

Max is the one with his head screwed on straight – but it also seems to be screwed on a little too tight, as it rapidly becomes obvious that despite all his success in life (as shown by his exceedingly fancy house), anger is his overriding emotion. And while Jake’s attempts to cover things up are clearly never going to work due to his puppy dog nature, Max is a bit too clever for his own good.

When Angie starts getting suspicious, Max offers to set her up with a private eye willing to take on the case. The catch is that the P.I. Kenny (Emun Elliot) is a notorious drunk more interested in swigging Midori than actually solving a case. Problem solved… until Kenny decides that this is just the right time to get his life in order, kick the drink, and pour all his new-found energy into finding out what really happened.

That’s a lot to take in, and this four-part series is only getting started. This hits the ground running with a hit-and-not-run opening because with so much going on, there isn’t time to waste. With the brothers rapidly sinking in deeper, and their own personal issues only dragging them down further, the twists and turns here come thick, fast, and with an increasing sense of panic.

Noir comedy is a tricky thing to pull off: get too silly or pile on too many laughs and the tension goes right out the window. Guilt makes it seem easy by bringing the comedy naturally out of the odd couple pairing at the heart of the story. These brothers are opposites who clearly loathe each other, but now they’re stuck with each other like never before – which becomes a plot point when Max’s wife Claire (Sian Brooke) starts wondering why they’re hanging around each other so much.

The mood gets darker and the stakes get higher as an ever-expanding cast of compellingly dubious types, including nosey neighbour Sheila (Ellie Haddington) and the perfectly named shady businessman Roy Lynch (Bill Paterson), make themselves known. The hole the brothers have dug for themselves just keeps on getting deeper, and even if they find a way out their lives are never going to be the same. Guilt is an emotion that never lets you off easy.

Guilt is now streaming at SBS On Demand.



Follow the author @morrbeat


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