TV Review: The Secret

The Secret is a brutally effective Northern Irish true crime drama with a highly creepy James Nesbitt

“This is not how a Christian wife should behave
‘And how should a Christian
husband behave?'”

Based on Deric Henderson’s book Let This Be Our Secret which detailed the real-life double murder of the Northern Irish Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan, The Secret aired on ITV in 2016 (and is currently available on Britbox and Netflix) but remains a brutally powerful piece of TV, well deserving of its BAFTA nomination for best drama miniseries.

Howell and Buchanan were the victims of their spouses. As Colin, a devout Baptist and dentist, and Hazel, a Sunday school teacher, embroiled themselves in a heady affair – despite ostensibly preaching the highest levels of devoutness – their minds turned to ways to getting together properly, despite the opprobium from their communities and the minor inconvenience of their respective families.

It scarcely seems believable but as each episode reminds us with its title card, it all really happened in the Baptist community of Coleraine in 1990. And there’s a horrifically compelling driver in the form of this fervently tight-knit religious community, whose way of dealing of things is to brush them under the carpet and threaten excommunication, allowing someone with the manipulative skills of Colin Howell to get away with…well, murder.

James Nesbitt is terrifyingly good in the role, charm enough on the surface but cold at heart. And there’s interesting work from Genevieve O’Reilly’s Hazel as his lover and accomplice, issues of coercion and responsibility left dangling for years to come. As the story progresses over two decades, following the remarriage of each, the way that the past comes back to haunt them and a justice of sorts is exacted proves eminently watchable.

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