Creator/writer Jeff Pope’s 2019 true crime docudrama A Confession is a six-episode limited series with episodes being roughly 45 minutes in length. It originally aired on ITV in the UK this past September, and will be launching in North America on Britbox starting May 12, 2020.
The series follows Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher (Martin Freeman), who is investigating the disappearance of a young woman Sian O’Callaghan (Florence Howard), and the various families that are impacted by the situation. Admittedly, the first two episodes focus on Sian’s family, but we’re also introduced to another. And it was initially rather confusing as to where this family features into the narrative. However, soon enough, it all becomes clear.
The acting in this limited series is absolutely top-notch. Freeman is ostensibly the lead. Though I love most of his work, it is indeed the finest acting I’ve seen from him. Imelda Staunton portrays a woman whose daughter went missing years ago, and her performance is absolutely heartwrenching. Siobhan Finneran plays Elaine, the mother of the missing woman, Sian. And while the role doesn’t require a lot of flashy emoting, she provides a subtle, nuanced portrayal of a woman suffering through acute heartbreak. Indeed, the entire ensemble cast is stellar, as there is not a single poor performance.
This is not an easy series to watch. It is both deeply sad, and a harrowing, shocking experience. The fact alone that it is based on a true story – and seemingly relatively accurate at that – makes it even more difficult to swallow. After watching the finale, I was emotionally beside myself. The series is expertly written and crafted. It takes twists and depicts character motivations that are so bizarre that they likely would never have been written by a screenwriter; they could only have been drawn from real life. It can also become considerably frustrating at times. As consumers of film and television, we are conditioned to look for the happy ending. Or at the very least some kind of satisfying conclusion. But reality rarely works that way. And some of the endings we get for these characters range from unfair at best, to unacceptable at worst.
Having written all of that, A Confession, while very close in many ways, is not perfect. The premiere episode which is mostly setup. And the final two which are mostly aftermath, do suffer from some pacing issues. Even with the scant 45 minute run time, they feel a little slow and long. My biggest issue with the series – and it’s a considerable one – is the way that it’s shot. It seems as though the aesthetic they were going for was a POV perspective. As though the camera itself is us, the viewers’ proxy in the room. It is constantly moving and shifting focus from character to character in a way that is so fluid that every single episode made me feel rather dizzy.
Still, for those that think they can handle this agonizing true story, A Confession is a must watch. The storytelling is skillfully executed, the performances are outstanding, and the presentation is unflinchingly honest. Make no mistake though, the experience is categorically gut wrenching.
A Confession hits Britbox Canada on May 12th, 2020.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama, Mystery
- Release Date: 5/12/2020
- Directed by: Paul Andrew Williams
- Starring: Imelda Staunton, Martin Freeman, Siobhan Finneran
- Produced by: Tom Dunbar
- Written by: Jeff Pope, Steve Fulcher
- Studio: ITV Studios, Urban Myth Films
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