by Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Associate Professor of Criminology and Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University.

In recent years we’ve seen a few ‘whydunit’ dramas emerge, such as The Fall, when we know who the perpetrator is from the outset and spend the series trying to figure out what drives them to kill. One of Us, which began last night on BBC One, however reverts to the traditional ‘whodunit’ style – with not just one homicide, but three.

The series is very much reminiscent of “Nordic Noir” – the setting brings to mind Scandinavian crime dramas where it rains a lot, it is bleak and dark and there are lots of shots of cars driving down winding country roads. We have a rural and urban contrast in this series that is often seen in Scandi crime drama – the bustling city streets of Edinburgh and the isolated and remote countryside of the Highlands. I think this will be a consistent theme throughout the series and will be crucial to the plot.

One of Us is very much within the ‘post forensics’ genre (Jermyn, 2013). Audiences are looking for more than the bodies, morgues and forensic science that typifies series like CSI. They want to immerse themselves in the complex narratives and multifaceted characters that surround a homicide, they want access to the stories, not just the physical evidence – something that One of Us looks like it will deliver on. Audiences are now quite sophisticated in their understandings of homicide. Exposed to a vast market of crime fiction, true crime, crime drama and crime film – not to mention the proliferation of online spaces dedicated to all things homicide – they are often quite accurate in their beliefs about what this crime is, how and why it happens. But One of Us presents a challenge for even the most dedicated crime fan.

The first episode was a veritable feast of crime and deviance – alcoholism, drug dealing, car-jacking, burglary, homicide, police officers engaging in misconduct.

There is significant doubt in the audiences’ minds as to whether the man the family think killed Adam and Gracie actually did kill them. The scenario they think played out is actually quite rare. Brookman (2005) found that only 7% of homicides occurred in the course of another crime (like burglary, robbery or sex attacks). Most people who are the victims of homicide are killed by people they know – most often a partner, ex-partner, family member or acquaintance. Therefore when speculating about the ‘whodunit’ question, the answers probably lie within the family we were introduced to in last night’s episode.

There were some thought-provoking moments. For example in recalling that she had shot a bird earlier that day, Louise says “What kind of person gets pleasure out of death?”. Euthanasia appeared as a topic when care home resident Meredith asked her nurse Claire to help her die. Detective Inspector Wallace appears to be stealing LSD from the police evidence store and selling it to a drug dealer – apparently to raise money for her daughter’s life saving operation. Therefore this series is asking some bigger questions about homicide – when is it right or justified to take another persons’ life? How far will people go to save a life?

After last night’s episode, we were left with the pieces of a challenging jigsaw scattered all over the floor – with not much idea how they fitted together and whether they were all part of the same puzzle. The writers provided us with a few theories that left seasoned crime drama viewers saying “That’s far too obvious”, so we are certainly in for an interesting ride as the series unfolds. 

  • Brookman, F. (2005). Understanding Homicide. London: Sage.
  • Jermyn, D. (2013). Labs and slabs: Television crime drama and the quest for forensic realism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 44(1), 103–109.

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Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Reader in Criminology and Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University.