Requiem, a production from the BBC and New Pictures and released jointly with Netflix in 2018, is a lot of things. It is a good old fashioned British mystery, very similar to Broadchurch - an idyllic country town is beset by a tragedy involving a young child, and the main narrative tension involves resolving the details of it. The insular confines of a rural village are perfect for this kind of whoddunit, as there is a limited universe of characters and potential leads to explore, and anybody could be a suspect. Like any good mystery, Requiem leads us down several false trails, constantly hedging and hinting at a number of possible truths, before bringing the show to a stirring conclusion in the finale.
Because, it turns out, this isn’t just a police procedural, although there are elements of that. It also brings in elements of occult mysticism in a remarkably natural way. This isn’t a Gothic novel, where it turns out the ghosts were in the mind all along; it’s pretty frank about the fact that these ghosts are real, and they live in the beautiful, lush world of the Welsh countryside (presumably the Welsh government offered some subsidies to the production and if so, they got their money’s worth - this show could easily double as an ad for the Welsh tourism industry). This unapologetic embrace of the fact that this is not just a mystery, but a supernatural mystery, helps to elevate it. Sure, there is some suggestion that the main character, played by Lydia Wilson, is losing her mind, but it’s also clear that there really are spirit creatures living out in the enchanted woods. The real hook is how exactly all these elements are going to play out and combine in the end.
For me, they combined beautifully. Everything is pretty logically consistent, including the motivations of the characters and the way they act. Everything is quite restrained, from the visual style to the story-telling. I loved how the show occasionally used some vintage 1970s long zooms just to help give it that slightly skewed feel. And this show is also a masterclass in how to use the power of suggestion and visual imagery to cultivate tension and atmosphere. The presence of the “ghosts” is almost always hinted at obliquely, through half-seen smears of light or creepy noises. That goes a long way toward elevating the show, as opposed to other films with bigger budgets that would probably just have blown money on CGI monsters gnashing their teeth. The restraint displayed here really helped make it pop.
All in all, this was just a well made supernatural murder mystery set in a breathtakingly beautiful part of Wales. It is carried along by great acting, really smart filmmaking decisions at virtually every step of the way, a balanced marriage of various styles and genres, and, at its heart, a compelling Agatha Christie-style whoddunit.
But my absolute favorite part? That would be in the 5th episode when (slight spoilers follow), the main character, Matilda, arrives at the scene of an accident and in a panic asks the police officer what happened to her friend who was driving the car.
Police Officer: “He’s gone…”
*Matilda starts sobbing uncontrollably*
Police Officer: “… missing from the scene. We don’t know where he is.”
I burst out laughing at this old banana peel routine. Why on Earth would that cop have answered that particular question in that way, other than to get a good joke over on old Matilda. I don’t think it’s meant to be read that way, but it was damn funny to me.
Anyway, I highly recommend this show. I would even be interested in a second season, possibly, though generally I think stuff like this works best in a self-contained arc, as a second season might try too hard to explain what happened in the first season and by doing so divorce it of some of its magic.