Guilt: Writer Neil Forsyth on bringing back his award-winning Edinburgh thriller series

It will transport audiences from a candlelit dinner party in an upmarket Edinburgh townhouse to a blood-splattered scene in its basement in just a few minutes.

Greg McHugh and Mark Bonnar star as Teddy and Max in Guilt.

There is no shortage of intrigue at the outset of the return of one of Scotland’s most acclaimed TV dramas.

And there are set to be even more complex characters, plot twists and surprises in store as the next series of crime thriller Guilt unfolds.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Neil Forsyth, the show’s creator, had to work for several years to get his idea for a series about two brothers plunged into chaos by a tragic encounter returning from a wedding into production.

But within days of its launch by BBC Scotland in 2019 he was being asked to write another series. Filming was already underway by the time the first series was a double winner at last year’s BAFTA Scotland Awards.

Guilt, the first drama commissioned for the new BBC Scotland channel, was initially seen by more than three million people across the UK, won huge plaudits from the critics and drew comparisons with Twin Peaks for its style and tone.

The first series ended with the final downfall and arrest of Leith lawyer Max, played by Mark Bonnar, who emerges from prison at the start of the new series – launching on the BBCiPlayer on 12 October – while his brother Jake (Jamie Sives) is enjoying a new life in Chicago.

It doesn’t take long for Max to become embroiled again with sinister businessman Roy Lynch - whose daughter Erin (Sara Vickers) also becomes entangled with the lawyer - and business partner Kenny, Emun Elliott’s private investigator from the first series.Dundee-born Forsyth says: “I was just blown away by the reaction to the first series. I’ve never had a reaction like that to anything I’d done before and I’m not sure I ever will again.

Kenny (Emun Elliot) and Max (Mark Bonnar) go into business together in the new series of Guilt.

"What really helped a lot was that it built up a word-of-mouth following. It was really thrilling.“I was careful to write what was hopefully a satisfying conclusion while definitely leaving a door open to another story. I felt there was still a lot of life in Guilt and areas I wanted to explore, and also had some thoughts about other characters I would like to bring in.”

The Bodyguard star Stuart Bowman has taken over the pivotal role of underworld figure Lynch in a plot which will see the worlds of characters haunted by the past and driven by revenge increasingly collide.

Forsyth says: "The big thing about Guilt, which I think we did well with Max and Jake in the first series, is to present characters who are perhaps relatively understandable and easy to read, and then constantly find new complications and nuance, so we understand where they have come from.

"I felt with the first series there were characters I could have worked on a bit more, understood a bit more and given them a bit more to do, frankly.

Phyllis Logan stars as Maggie Lynch in the new series of Guilt.

"Roy was a character I was very interested in from the first series. I wanted to know more about him.

"With the new series, I’ve tried to tell a satisfying stand-alone story using characters, thematic areas and narrative threads from the first series.

"I wanted to write something I found exciting, fresh and interesting. I didn’t want to begin with the same two brothers facing the same kind of seismic life events in the same kind of environment. That would have been a bit repetitious.

“My starting point was to have let some time have passed and then really hit the ground running again with an event and throw all the characters into the repercussions of that.”

Sara Vickers joins the cast of the new season of Guilt as Erin.

The first series of Guilt was praised for its dark humour as the plight of its main characters deepened.

Forsyth says: “It’s always driven by the character and how they would react to a particular situation.

"If the thing that comes to mind is a line that is real and natural but also funny then that’s great. I enjoy almost sprinkling the scripts with that. It’s really important as it lets the air out but you also have to be so careful with how you use it.

“The biggest thing I do editorially with Guilt is when I go through the scripts is take out comedic aspects and pare it back and back, so that what’s left in is completely justified in terms of character and isn’t detracting from the dramatic drive of the story. Nothing ever happens so I can create a situation that's funny.

"A lot of it comes from performance. I’m very aware of how brilliant these actors are. One of the things they handle so well is the dry delivery of these more humorous moments.

"You have to handle it carefully but when it comes off it really adds a lot to the show.”

Emun Elliot and Mark Bonnar star as Kenny and Max in the new series of Guilt.

Forsyth was still writing the second series when the TV industry were forced into lockdown. However shooting was able to go ahead in Edinburgh and Glasgow under strict Covid protocols over the autumn and winter.

Forsyth says: "Huge credit has to go to Eric Coulter and the whole crew who worked so brilliantly to run such a safe and efficient production.

"Patrick Harkins, the director, did a magnificent job creatively and pragmatically under those conditions, without making huge creative sacrifices. To come out of a Covid shoot with a show that looks and feels like this is a great achievement.“I do think it feels authentic as an Edinburgh show. A lot of that does come down to locations, but it’s also down to the casting and taking it into the writing. I lived in Leith for a long time and I’ve enjoyed being even more specific in the dialogue with local references this time.”

The second season appears even more ambitious than the first, with The Nevers star Rochelle Neil, Greg McHugh, star of Gary Tank Commander and The A Word, Downton Abbey and Doctor Who actress Phyllis Logan, Calibre and Chernobyl star Ian Pirie joining the expanded ensemble cast.

Forsyth, who cites Fargo, The Wire and The Sopranos as some of his favourite TV dramas, says: “What those American shows – which I see very much as an aspiration rather than a comparison – do at a character level is just brilliant.

"They’re constantly finding that depth within a character and examining where the motivations for people come from and the key events that have taken them down the path they’ve gone down. That’s what I try to do.

“Hopefully Guilt is exciting, surprising and grabs people and takes them on an interesting journey that they don’t expect."When I write, I think about people who have knocked their pan in all day at work and are sitting down to watch something with a drink and will give it 10 minutes. Hopefully Guilt will give them reasons to keep watching.

"The first series was driven by guilt. With this one, it’s revenge that runs through every character, in one way or another. In an ideal world, I’d like to do a third and final series to make it a trilogy, which would be about redemption, but let’s see if we get there. I’m just gratified to have been able to do two.”

The Bodyguard star Stuart Bowman has joined the cast of Guilt for its second series.
Emun Elliot, Mark Bonnar and Greg McHugh star in the new series of Guilt.

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.