The Beast Must Die review – Cush Jumbo plots grief-fuelled revenge

BritBox’s first original drama is a taut thriller, with Jumbo playing the mother of a hit-and-run victim who hunts down odious prime suspect Jared Harris

I love a drama premise you can really get behind. The Beast Must Die (BritBox) follows the hunt by bereaved mother Frances (Cush Jumbo) for the driver of the vehicle that killed her six-year-old son in a hit-and-run on the Isle of Wight three months earlier. Partly because the police have failed to find the culprit and partly so that when she does, she can kill him. As she points out, if the boy had been killed by someone with his own hands instead of with his car, there would be a national outcry, and no one would rest until the beast was caught.

By the end of the first two episodes made available for streaming (the remaining three will drop weekly on Thursdays), Frances has followed up on clues and extracted information from repair shops about damaged bumpers. She has also befriended the emergent key witness Lena (Mia Tomlinson) by pretending she is doing research for a novel about a young woman similarly trying to make it as an actress/gig-economy worker, and is sitting down for dinner with the man apparently responsible, like an avenging angel at the feast.

Her target is George Rattery, a successful, loathsome businessman and even more successful and loathsome bully, who is married to Lena’s fragile sister Violet (Maeve Dermody). He is played by the mighty Jared Harris, continuing the golden streak he has been on ever since Mad Men with an utterly terrifying, sinister performance, done so lightly you can hardly believe how he is lighting up the fear centres of your brain like a Christmas tree.

George is nearly matched in vileness by his sister (Geraldine James), who helps poison the atmosphere in the family home she shares with her brother, Violet and the couple’s son Phil (Barney Sayburn, a young actor doing fine work as the cowed, lonely boy opening up like a flower in the sunlight of Frances’s attention, unaware of her ulterior motives).

Meanwhile, we have a more legitimate re-investigation that begins when London detective Nigel Strangeways (Billy Howle) relocates to the Isle of Wight, to try to escape the PTSD caused by the violent death of a colleague. He takes over the case files of his late predecessor at the station and finds the work done on the hit-and-run to be shoddy at best, negligent most likely, and suspiciously poor at worst. The sense of a cover-up rather than mere incompetence is beginning to creep in by the end of the episodes.

The Beast Must Die is the first scripted original drama (though it is an adaptation, by Gaby Chiappe, of a Nicholas Blake novel) from BritBox, whose content is mostly legacy stuff from the BBC and ITV. It sets the bar pleasingly high, with a stellar cast giving uniformly great performances. (Jumbo was made for grief and fury, while Howle is tremendous as a nervy bundle of torments.) It also boasts a lovely, allusive script (particularly in the scenes between Strangeways and his therapist, played by Nathaniel Parker), and a well-paced plot that only occasionally depends on slightly unconvincing breakthrough moments in Frances’s amateur investigation. It’s hard to see how such strengths will not endure in future episodes, if we can resist falling victim to George’s emotional terrorism.

With so many episodes to come, there are bound to be more complications and revelations in this revenge thriller – can we really have been introduced to the true villain so early on? However, most viewers will surely stay for them all.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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