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Review: Requiem, BBC1: Not a good day for the Welsh Tourist Board (SPOILERS)

PUBLISHED: 00:32 09 February 2018

Matilda (Lydia Wilson) runs after her mother in the first episode of Requiem (C) New Pictures

Matilda (Lydia Wilson) runs after her mother in the first episode of Requiem (C) New Pictures

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Requiem was billed as the most frightening programme the BBC had ever broadcast: has no one ever told these people about Ghostwatch 1992? Or the News at Ten?

Matilda (Lydia Wilson) is about to stumble on something quite unusual in Requiem (C) New Pictures Matilda (Lydia Wilson) is about to stumble on something quite unusual in Requiem (C) New Pictures

It’s never a good sign when you’re rooting for the lead character to be carried off by vengeful angels and disposed of quietly.

BBC1’s Requiem was a mixed bag of Omen-style horror, Inside No 9 style pastiche and cringeworthy cliches that almost, but didn’t quite, hit the mark when it came to chilling drama. It’s considerably more chilly putting the bins out, and not just because it’s cold outside.

My husband and I watched the lot over a weekend and, to be fair, it did hold our attention enough to limp to the end, even though by the time I got to the final episode I was firmly on the side of whatever appeared to be trying to get to the hugely annoying and selfish heroine, Matilda Grey (Lydia Wilson).

It’s fair to say that the first 15 minutes were a fairly strong indication of what would follow – to a deeply disturbing soundtrack of guttural moaning and clashing chords, we saw a posh-looking chap walk into a country manor house filled with even more creepy noises. Peering into the cellar, whatever he sees there causes him to smash every mirror in the house, climb on the roof and throw himself off: spring cleaning gets us all that way sometimes.

Next we’re in London and meeting Matilda, a concert cellist who performs with pianist Hal (Joel Fry) and has managed to make the cello cool, mainly it appears by having a severe platinum Lego-man haircut and being prone to dressing like Barbarella in her winter collection.

Matilda spends her nights playing the cello with PASSION and her nights swiping Tinder and enjoying one-night stands where PASSION is in short measure but fills the EMPTY VOID, presumably the one caused by SOMETHING IN HER PAST. Just turn left when you see the next story signpost.

After brunch with Joanna Scanlan (who plays her Mum, Janice) Matilda is off to the concert hall to prep for a big gig with a soundcheck and a stolen cigarette at the back door: meanwhile, Janice is getting ready to support her daughter and we see her get ready, gratuitous underwear shots and all (why?), slipping into a nice frock while listening to her daughter on CD, with the odd bit of interference from a ghost quite literally in the machine who not only makes the music skip but also commands her to kill herself in a multi-storey car park by slitting her own throat as Matilda watched. Not an ideal warm-up.

Back at Janice’s flat, Matilda finds a shoebox handily placed on the bed which is filled with newspaper clippings about the disappearance of a young girl 23 years earlier in Wales and, as you would, decides to go and investigate with Hal in tow.

She hopes to investigate whether her mother’s death is related to Carys Howell’s disappearance and sets off for Penllynith, where there most definitely isn’t a welcome in the hills. I imagine the Welsh Tourism Board must have had mixed feelings about Requiem: on the one hand it was full of gorgeous sweeping shots of rugged mountains, mist-filled rolling valleys, stunning slate villages and lush woodlands with Lord of the Ring-style caves, on the other Wales was a hotbed of weird devil-worshipping locals with a penchant for child abduction, sheep botherers, haunted houses and dark foreboding. Perhaps the latter just means you can get cheaper deals in the school holidays.

Requiem is, we were told, the most frightening TV show the BBC had ever shown, although those of us who watched Ghostwatch Life in 1992 would beg to differ (if I even say the word ‘Pipes’ my Weird Norfolk colleague Siofra jumps – I just tried it now and she accused me of being “unnecessarily mean”).

Requiem was genuinely creepy and disquieting at times, although just as you’d settled into feeling unsettled, the atmosphere would be ruined by a spot of ridiculousness that immediately broke the spell (the worst offenders were Matilda’s biological father, Sean Howell – played by Sam Hazeldine – who managed to live in the woods for 10 years in a lair covered in mirror shards without being spotted despite being less than 200 yards from a manor house, and Sylvia Walsh – played by Tara Fitzgerald – a kind of possessed antique dealer). It was all a bit Hammer House Bingo stretched over six hour-long episodes that could have easily been condensed into four, or even three: shattering mirrors? Check. Radio disturbance? Check. Missing children? Check. Demonic music? Check. Flocks of angry birds? Check. Bring back Pipes, I say.

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