Guilt, as all people know, is a matter of what someone has done and what someone feels—although, strangely, the two don’t always walk side-by-side. One may share in the guilt of a crime without feeling anything; conversely, one may feel guilt for no accountable reason. In the PBS Mystery! series Guilt, the interaction of fact and feeling are plotted ingeniously through four parts in the lives of two brothers in Scotland.
Max (Mark Bonnar) and Jake (Jamie Sives) are heading home one night from a wedding reception, blotto, as the Brits sometimes say. Of the two, Max is the worse for wear, so Jake, hardly sober himself, takes the wheel of Max’s Mercedes to get them home. Max is a successful lawyer and Jake, an ex-aspiring rocker and now vinyl-record-shop owner (bankrolled by Max). An unhappy twosome for sure, they argue back and forth as they travel, which distracts Jake from the road. A sudden thump on the front of the car tells them they would have been wiser to call a taxi. To say the least, the Mercedes will need some minor body work, but things are far worse than that: they’ve hit an old man in a residential neighborhood. His name is Walter, but he’s in no condition to introduce himself, mainly because he’s dead.
What to do? Commonly, a driver (with or without a passenger) must choose—a little like Robert Frost’s traveler—one of two paths. He’ll call the police or get lost as fast as he can. That’s where Guilt adds its own twist with a road truly “less traveled”. Though I hesitate to call anything but God Himself unique, what Max and Jake concoct is at least original. They search the body for I.D., carry it back to his home and prop it in his easy chair before the TV with his hand comfortably situated on the remote. Wonder of wonders, Max finds an opened letter, official stuff, informing the man he’s dying of cancer—with little time left to live. What luck! The corpse has barely a scratch, except for a bruise or two. Everyone will assume he simply died as expected. Max is perfectly satisfied with the plan and drags a more reluctant Jake to the car for the getaway.
That should be the end, but what kind of story would that be? A few days later, Jake hears from Angie (Ruth Bradley), the dead man’s niece, an American, and his only living relative. She’s been making final preparations for her uncle, and, low and behold, she found a wallet in the late Walter’s house that turns out to be Jake’s. Did he leave it on a visit to his “friend’s” house? Will he drop by for the post-funereal meal to collect it?
Once Jake arrives and quietly locates his wallet, he meets Angie who is pretty, sociable, and soon as attracted to Jake as he is to her. A few hours of conversation and alcohol are sufficient courtship in these amoral times, and they happily spend the night together. Of course, she will have to wrap up the estate of which she is the sole beneficiary and head back to America soon, but she dawdles and continues to see Jake. As for the love-struck brother, he’s of two minds: his safety requires her to leave, but his emotions say otherwise.
Max, meanwhile, is beside himself with worry; a natural control freak and manipulator, he badgers Jake constantly to send the girl packing. Angie has other ideas. Walter’s lawyer mentions nonchalantly that there were bruises on the body and some signs of paint on his clothes, but since the police haven’t acted, neither will he—unless Angie gives the word, which she does.
Those problems may be enough for any viewer, but more bubble to the surface of the increasingly stinking cauldron. On one of many visits to Angie, Jake looks at photos in Walter’s collection and sees one of a girl, perhaps eleven or twelve years old. The flip side of it has the inscription “To my favorite niece.” Cute, huh? The problem is the girl in the photo doesn’t look a bit like the adult Angie.
Then there are the neighbors. A man across the street has a surveillance camera mounted to his house, but when Max indignantly confronts him, he reveals the camera is a dummy—all for show to discourage would-be robbers. In fact, he has another camera that has taken footage of the night in question. The female neighbor from across the street, Sheila (Ellie Haddington), a reptile if there ever was one, is more threatening. “I saw what you did,” she tells Max, and she wants hush money, 20,000 pounds to be exact. And with paint samples from Walter’s clothes going to the lab, things grow bleaker by the hour for Max and Jake.
If that isn’t enough, the friendly folks from whom Max borrows the 20,000—not his first transaction with them—turn out to be hoods of the money-laundering stripe. Unknown to Max and Jake until now, Jake’s not-so-profitable record store is one of the hoods’ clearing houses. And just as Angie’s questions about Max and Jake (whom she really loves, as he does her) continue to grow, Jake’s doubts blossom into festering weeds. He picks up a matchbox at Walter’s from a cozy Scottish inn and decides to search online for info—maybe for a nice weekend with Angie. Pictures of the place are typical enough: rooms and a bar. But at the bar is a barmaid: Angie. Sitting at the bar is someone viewed from the back that just may be Sheila.
I could go on, but you get the idea: Guilt is a game of twists and turns (some dark some hilarious, some both) that asks how these hapless people will get out of the messes they’ve created? And will justice prevail? Well, this is a modern crime drama, so survival is all. That’s a depressing assessment, but in a godless culture, it’s inevitable. Still, watch Guilt. You will be entertained, probably in spite of yourself.