IN France it was named Petit Muerte entre Freres (Little Murder between Brothers), in Sweden they went to Var Lilla Hemlighet (Be Little Secret).
Sa Scotland it is simply Conscience. A solid, fist in the face kind of title for the most evil entertaining caper to come out in Scotland since the Stone of Destiny was nicked.
According to Entertainment lore, Neil Forsyth’s second comedy drama series, which started last night, will always be hard. Second album, second marriage, second run for the award-winning show which was a hit for BBC Scotland it immediately found a home on BBC2 and was screened across the UK to huge acclaim.
Don’t be afraid, though. On the strength of the opening stage, the second series will be pure pleasure, no offense to it. Like a car starting for the first time every time, like a perfectly mixed martini, Guilt will just work.
It’s been two years since Max (Mark Bonnar) was driven in the back of a police car, onto the rap to hit and run. The hint of a smile made for much debate: Was Max the sinner sanctified?
The series of two opens with an Edinburgh dinner where the pals celebrate a year since the man left rehab home. Sober now, Adrian (Robin Laing) is still a waste and a chancer, but he’s in the middle class, lives in a big house and has friends in the professions, so there’s no shame in it, really. Making a toast. “Here’s the boring one,” said the hostess. They may also have broken every glass in the house, to make sure that the relapse follows rehab, the viewer feels the bad luck going down.
“I don’t know what to do next,” a panicked Adrian said afterwards. “That’s how it starts,” he told her. By the time we were off to the races.
One of the pleasures of the first series was watching a wrong decision revolve around a web of deception. Forsyth does a better job of that work here. He is more confident in his ability to engage the audience. There will be no unfolding, no flashbacks, no explanation of gags, just jump, the water is lovely.
Back on the streets of Edinburgh again, Max calls former acquaintances, chief among them Roy Lynch, who is called the “jump up gangster” of the parish that is now revered (sort of).
Stuart Bowman had helluva big shoes to fill after Bill Paterson, but he slipped like Cinderella (if Cinderella was the heir to Charlie Endell Esq).
Max’s old gofer Kenny (Emun Elliott) is also just as underwhelmed to see him again. Now with HND in legal services, Kenny has moved on. Everyone has, except Max, who is considered worthy of giving. “I just need a piece of what I have, who I am,” he pleads.
Guilt is set in the borderland between right and wrong, respect and togetherness. It’s a place that’s hardly unique to Scotland, but it’s very much Scotland. If you do well, or are well connected, that fellow dating Max, you can come back from almost anything. There is no need for an end to world.
But now Max, having fallen from grace, is back with the nobility, an outsider, a humiliated lawyer for heaven’s sake. How low can a person land? What a blast it is to find out.
Directed by Patrick Harkins and produced by a staff that is overwhelming by BBC Scotland’s standards, you can see and smell the money spent on the production.
It’s not just money, though. There is nothing “can do that” or “that is good enough” about committing Offense. Everything looks the same, from the perfect bench to view the glowing city to Roy’s bachelor’s residence. It staged a soundtrack with enough room for both Leonard Cohen and The Skids.
A consistently superb cast does the rest. Aside from Bonnar, his silver nuggets in the city working overtime, hello to Phyllis Logan, crowded and threatening in a care home, a Scottish Livia Soprano if any. Honestly, that’s a scratch – Phyllis’s Maggie is even scarier.
Come the end of time we’re left, once again, trying to read Max’s face for clues. “Stick around,” his expression seemed to say. “It’s going to be good.” In Max we trust.
Repeated BBC2, Thursday, 9pm. All four episodes of series two, and series one, are now on iPlayer