It opened with sweeping views of the three bridges across the Firth of Forth and the unmistakable sight of Arthur’s Seat towering above Edinburgh. It was a breathtaking moment for a big new prime-time BBC One drama – but particularly one made entirely in Scotland for the UK network, writes Brian Ferguson.
Within the first few minutes of The Victim audiences were thrust into the heart of the High Court of Edinburgh for the tense opening of the trial of an Edinburgh mother accused of conspiring to murder a bus driver she believes is the killer of her nine-year-old son with a new identity.
So began the crime thriller which has had Britain’s TV critics raving and audiences gripped as it unfolds over four successive nights this week. I was lucky enough to spend a day on the set in Glasgow last year, and to get an insight into its numerous back stories from writer Rob Williams and stars Kelly Macdonald, John Hannah and James Harkness.
But it was not until I watched a sneak preview of the show a couple of weeks ago that it was obvious something special was in the can. Nine months after The Bodyguard became Britain’s big drama, BBC One is pinning its hopes on The Victim making a similar impact.
With audience demand for high-quality British drama seemingly growing by the week, and fuelled by debate and excitement on social media, The Victim has arrived on air at exactly the right time, in the same week as the new series of Line of Duty.
Rob Williams, writer of The Victim, and Sarah Brown, its executive producer at STV Productions, have already been planning a second series in the hope that the BBC will see enough demand from audiences this week to give it the green light sooner rather than later.
More importantly for the Scottish screen sector, The Victim seems set to raise the bar for high-quality drama production north of the border. It is the second major new drama made in Scotland to be shown on the UK-wide network in the space of six months following the broadcast of The Cry, which saw Jenna Coleman play a schoolteacher whose baby is abducted. Both were commissioned and made before Scotland had its own screen agency, before it had a dedicated channel for Scottish content on the BBC and without the country having its own large-scale studio facilities. But the first two are now up and running and a major announcement on the latter is expected by the end of this month.
Progress on these long-awaited projects has helped build a genuine sense of momentum that Scotland is on the cusp of an exciting new era for film and TV. Years of navel-gazing, lobbying and campaigning over the failure to support and develop the industry have given way to a much-needed focus on new investment and high-profile productions with Scotland written through them like a stick of rock.
Perhaps the most striking for me about The Cry, The Victim and forthcoming films like Beats and Wild Rose and an adaptation of Alan Warner’s book The Sopranos is the number of on-screen roles that have been created for the next, largely unheralded generation of Scottish acting talent, including James Harkness, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Lorn Macdonald, Tallulah Greive, Cristian Ortega and Chloe Pirrie. But a prime-time slot for The Victim, the cast that were assembled for it and its backing by BBC One have also given people working at every level of the industry in Scotland a real template to aim for in future.