What if you want to find out who you really are – but you don’t like the answer?
That’s the question posed by the creators behind BBC1’s new psychological thriller series Requiem.
The six-parter tells the story of Matilda (played brilliantly by Lydia Wilson), a talented London cellist whose life is turned upside down by her mother’s inexplicable suicide.
Now questioning everything she thought she knew about herself, she embarks on a quest – along with best friend Hal (Joel Fry) – that leads her to a small Welsh town where a toddler disappeared 23 years earlier.
It’s there that things take a mysterious turn.
“I’ve never been a big fan of chainsaws and monsters, but I’ve always been an enormous fan of the more low-key, psychological horror thrillers that toy with an audience’s and the protagonist’s psyche,” says writer Kris Mrksa, who penned the identity-crisis drama following the death of his own mother.
“The Innocents, Truman Capote’s version of The Turn Of The Screw, is a really wonderful film. That had a big influence on my thinking,” he adds.
“Other masterpieces that have the same ambiguity are Don’t Look Now and Rosemary’s Baby, which sits in terrifying, disquieting territory. That was something I was trying to land with Requiem.”
It goes without saying that a bold tale requires bold characters – and Requiem, with its supernatural undertones, has them in abundance.
Paving the way is Matilda Gray, who in the wake of tragedy swaps her Tinder habit and rollies in favour of going after “the real her”.
“Something huge is missing from her life,” says Wilson, who’s also starred in Ripper Street and Star Trek Beyond. “A lot of twenty-somethings are looking for something in external images, but an integral part of Matilda is empty.”
Meanwhile Hal is “a wet blanket”, says Game Of Thrones star Fry. “He loves Matilda, but it’s hard to tell if she knows that. But when they go on this quest together, they reach a new level of intimacy.”
Also in the picture is Janice Gray, Matilda’s troubled mother portrayed by Joanna Scanlan, while the Welsh town’s residents, among others, include antiques dealer and “shape shifter” Sylvia, played by Game Of Thrones actress Tara Fitzgerald; and retired detective inspector Stephen Kendrick, played by Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle.
In addition to housing a number of eclectic characters, the small-town setting was deemed a metaphor for isolation. A space cut off from city life.
“She is without her apps and her little accoutrements that we all need to make us feel like we’ve got identities, in a superficial way,” says Rada graduate Wilson.
“It was interesting letting all of that go. It was like going back in time.”
“I wanted there to be a clash of two worlds,” explains Mrksa. “When I visited Wales, I fell in love with the place. It has a mystical feel, and the history there is very palpable.”
The spook factor
“We can really get the psychological part of the drama – [Matilda] is grief-stricken,” says Wilson. “She has a very thin skin because of this rupture in her confidence and she becomes this lightning rod for things that are happening without necessarily being able to read the situation.
“That’s where the chills come from.”
“Spookiness is in the eye of the beholder,” Coyle says. “We are all about the intentions and this parallel reality with the characters, their intentions and what the truth is.”
Proving life really can imitate art, however, the scares didn’t always end when the cameras stopped rolling.
“There were lot of incidents with birds,” remembers Fitzgerald. “They seemed to be in people’s front gardens a lot more than normal.”
And on set – surely filming in the majestic country house conjured up some fear?
“It was really quite strange and spooky,” Fry says. “It’s one of those old houses where you walk in and can’t help feeling, ‘What kind of things have happened here in the past?’”
It’s that fascination, that desire to explain the unexplainable, that the cast believe will intrigue viewers.
“The mystery of life is riveting,” says Fitzgerald. “We’re all searching for the answers to the Great Unknown. It’s a very human quest: Why are we here? Where are we?
“In Requiem, Matilda is searching for her identity. But on a larger level, it’s about how we are all looking for our place in the universe.
“I think it’s great to do something like this, which is uncomfortable and unfamiliar,” she says.
“It’s fantastic to make something that is so bold.”