Last Night’s TV: Glue

After eight weeks Glue comes to an end, and with it Cal’s killer is revealed. Writer Jack Thorne has great pedigree (Skins, This Is England, The Fades), but has the whodunnit countryside drama been a success?

You can’t help but feel sorry for Glue. What has been a decent piece of television over the last seven episodes has suffered terribly in the ratings. The result has been E4 desperately promoting it as some sort of teenage Broadchurch, begging everyone ask: ‘Who killed Cal?’.

Of course, anyone who’s followed the series will know this is relatively secondary to the proceedings. With a very limited cast of suspects — a couple of whom were killed themselves and others who had been confirmed not to have been at the crime scene — there was only ever a couple of possibilities for the murderer.

In the end it transpired that it was a family affair: Eli killing his brother Cal for wanting to leave the country and break his ideal of being able to protect him from their broken home. And Cal’s final mistake? Calling their dead mother ‘a cunt’.

Looking back now, no-one else besides James and Eli had much to do with Cal throughout the narrative. The paedophile policeman Ian Salter was the only real red herring, and even that a subdued subplot. But despite E4’s best marketing efforts the story was never about that.

Indeed, all the suspense in tonight’s finale came from the fate that hung over James as Eli dragged him away; first literally from his house, then onto horseback into a forest, and finally up to the Uffington White Horse hill for the big climax.

As per the rest of the series the police were nowhere to be seen until the drama had already unfolded. Despite a double-murder and all the other illegal activities in the small town – some of which proved to be ludicrously ambitious for such a remote area – the serious crime forces only took any real interest in the final few moments. This meant it was left to Tina and Ruth to try to talk sense into Eli as he stood with a cattle gun to his head.

At times the series has been majestic. The opening five minutes of the first episode was some of the best TV this year and similarly the closing shots of this final episode as Vaults’ ‘Premonitions’ played out were sublime and wrapped things up beautifully.

The acting from the young cast too has been decent on the whole. There’s no doubt Callum Turner’s mixed-up Eli and Billy Howle’s touching performance as James have been the stand-out and they rightly shared the stage for much of this finale.

That not to say there haven’t been issues though. Yasmin Paige (Submarine, The Double) is a fantastic actress, but at times has looked widely miscast and unbelievable in the overly complex role of a fragile young mother, but yet fearless police officer, quite happy to disobey her senior officers and wander into dangerous crime scenes.

Similarly, although Jordan Stephens portrayal of Rob was perfectly adequate, his fame from Rizzle Kicks somewhat distracted from the seriousness of the drama. And we won’t even start on the character of Annie who seemed to bear no relevance to the plot or scenario at all.

Indeed the whole show has suffered from a distinct lack of consistent tone throughout, largely brought about by several ambiguities in the surroundings. Just how big was the town? The police station looked fairly vast, and the officers largely unfazed by the enormity of the crimes. Similarly it had a large new housing development, a Romany site, a fairly reasonable stables and horse training area and a decent-sized pub and church.

But yet a bus ‘hadn’t travelled through the place in years’, so much so that these protected youngsters of vastly different ages had been thrown together, all experimenting with life in different ways as there was no-one else around to stop them. The conflict between telling a story about being trapped in a small town and huge storylines just didn’t ever sit quite right.

Subplots that came and went so quickly everyone seemed to forget there had been a horrifying murder

It’s always the case that this type of drama throws up complaints; plot holes are natural in making a believable but complex narrative over so few episodes. Maybe a longer story with more depth and background would’ve had more impact.

Thorne’s old series Skins cleverly focussed each episode on one character, allowing the main narrative to drive forward as you learnt more about the history of the individuals involved as the series progressed. A similar device has been employed throughout Glue (albeit with two central characters per episode), but never felt fleshed-out enough.

The result has been subplots that came and went so quickly everyone seemed to forget there had been a horrifying murder: Ruth’s relationship with her baby’s father and the Romany community; Blackout the wonder horse and just who owned him; Rob’s broken family life and future plans; Benji the kid who randomly appears throughout. You could go on for quite some time.

Indeed, in his previous work Jack Thorne has always succeeded by striking the perfect balance between narrative, emotion and drama. But Glue has never quite reached that pinnacle. Maybe a better, stronger central character than Ruth might have tied it all together more coherently; indeed you get the feeling the story on paper was probably far better than came across on screen.

It’s easy though to pick at the faults in a series like this however, when perhaps we should be praising it instead. At its heart Glue has been a solid, original British drama that has tried to do something different with a decent amount of success. The cinematography at times has has been breathtaking as has the acting range of the young cast, albeit sporadically.

The Broadchurch effect — which Thorne himself condemned — certainly hasn’t helped people’s expectations. E4 only have themselves to blame for promoting it as a murder mystery, rather than a gritty drama about the secrets of the countryside. But as a story about friendship and family bonds it’s certainly been a decent piece of work that should be applauded.