Why you should catch up with Liar Season 1
James R | On 01, Nov 2017
Jack and Harry Williams have become known for their twisting, turning TV dramas, such as Rellik, the BBC crime show that unfolded backwards. Liar, though, is perhaps their best, and most meticulously written series yet.
The drama pieces together what happened the morning after a murky night before. Teacher Laura (Joanna Froggatt) is just getting back into the dating game, asking out handsome surgeon Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd) under the pressure of her encouraging sister. Their date takes him back to hers, and they appear to have had sex, but she can’t remember what happened then. Did it, as she suspects, culminate in rape? Or, as he claims, was their intercourse consensual and nothing more?
The show perfectly positions itself on the line between the two possibilities, drip-feeding fragments of Laura’s memory throughout the series. Over six episodes, we leap from one side of the allegations to the other, sympathising with one party before being outraged on behalf of the other. Their behaviour after the evening in question is designed to confuse our feelings, from her urge to tell other people to his rushing to see her and insist upon his innocence, but the more complex and messy it gets, the more achingly believable it is – real life isn’t clear-cut or simple and Liar makes sure we don’t forget it.
The Williams brothers surround our lead couple with a host of similarly convincing friends and relatives, and craft subplot after subplot that test each person’s ability to tell the truth – or lie to someone else’s face. Even Laura and Andrew have to reluctantly tell some small fibs to help out a pupil in Laura’s class – the kind of scenario that not only drives up tension by having them meet face-to-face but also understands the doubt that’s instilled by seeing how good they can be at deceiving people, even when it’s supposedly for good reason. Affairs, work colleagues, confused children and more all collide, never letting us get a whole handle on any one person.
None of this would be doable without a spot-on cast and Froggatt (Downton Abbey’s Anna) and Gruffud (he of Hornblower) are brilliant. She’s uncertain but full of conviction that something bad happened, even as her determination to find justice, no matter what moral boundary must be crossed, risks making her more reckless and unlikeable. Gruffud, meanwhile, is all smiling innocence and reassuring charisma, but can turn that white-teethed grin into something sinister and creepy at the drop of a hat. Is he protesting his innocence a little too much? Threatening people with something worse? Covered by too many convenient witnesses?
We’re left guessing and trying to reconcile all the conflicting accounts and facets of each character for most of the six episodes, with a climax that promises to continue studying lies and honesty in the face of alibis and evidence. The result is a thought-provoking study of consent, gender equality and criminal justice that’s highly pertinent to current society.
Liar: Season 1 is available on ITV Hub until 11th March 2020. It is also available on BritBox, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but (spoilers)
– Let’s start with the most important fact: Andrew did, in fact, rape Laura and spiked her wine on their date. Once Liar finally exposes him as the titular villain, Ioan Gruffudd has even more fun with his role, leaning into the chilling creepiness with a leering grin.
– While the tension initially starts from the uncertainty of what happened that night – with Laura accusing him on social media, sending ripples out through her school pupils (including Andrew’s son, Luke, who’s in her class) – the suspense eventually morphs into whether Laura can make the truth stick. After initially risking discrediting himself, she then then starts to risk discrediting the whole case, by breaking into his house to discover the date-rape drug (leaving her earring behind) and then getting ex-boyf Tom, a police officer, to search the place.
– There’s some tragic pathos when Laura discovers that Tom has been having an affair with her sister, Katy (also shocking Katy’s husband, Liam) and decides she can’t trust anyone, but the real heartbreaking scenes come when Laura travels to Edinburgh to dig into the apparent suicide of Andrew’s former wife – and, while trying to convincing others to speak out against Andrew and his dubious character, ends up unearthing all kinds of pain from those close to him.
– Liar’s most brazen move, though, is lurching into straight-out horror, as Andrew drugs the pregnant DI Vanessa and sneaks into her apartment to rape her – fortunately, her baby is fine. That opens up more horror-tinged suspense, as Laura tries to kidnap and drug him back to get him to confess (or at the very least frame him so he can’t wriggle out of a no-evidence scenario).
– While that all sounds unsubtle, Liar does well to continue unpicking the trauma of Laura’s assault, particularly as she encounters the sweet Ian (Kieran Bew) in Edinburgh and confesses that she feels broken inside. And the more she fails to be able to move on from what happened – an undercover cop, Charlotte, tries to trick Andrew into exposing himself, but fails – the more you wonder how drastic she’ll have to be to make a breakthrough.
– That, it turns out, is getting Tom to steal and search Andrew’s phone, which leads her to a hidden store of memory cards in the garden shed of a woman called Mia. But fast forward three weeks and, even with the details leaked to the press and a police hunt in full swing, Andrew’s nowhere to be found. Until, in a bold final shot, we see his body lying dead in the marshes. Who killed him? And, if it’s Laura, will she be able to lie convincingly enough to avoid being found guilty? Roll on Season 2.