Surprisingly, Monday night’s The Fear didn’t refer to the prospect of accidentally stumbling across the live episode of The Only Way Is Essex- it was actually the title of a new four-part drama airing over consecutive nights on Channel 4.
The story line follows Richie Beckett, a respected and feared businessman/gangster based in Brighton. Beckett is played by Peter Mullan – a man adding to his repertoire of menacing alcoholics – who has been nothing less than terrifying in everything I’ve seen him in previously (he even scared the hell out of me in the sepia-tinted ‘War Horse’).
Despite this, the title of the story doesn’t necessarily represent the fear that Richie instills in his adversaries, but rather the dread that he’s slowly losing his mind. This is shown in a scene where he suddenly snaps and attacks a unicyclist who nearly ran him over (as you do), but soon afterwards has no recollection of this explosion of violence. In addition, Richie is also confused by repeated visions of a young woman that he can’t explain.
In recent years, Richie has (in true Godfather III style) sought to move away from his dark past. He’s refrained from violence for 15 years and been sober for the past three. He’s also trying to take a back seat with regards to his business, leaving it mainly to his two sons – slick and calm Matty (played by Harry Lloyd) and drug-addled pretty boy, Cal (Paul Nicholls).
However, a new threat is looming in the form of Albanian gangsters who, despite veering dangerously close to parody, soon show that they are not to be messed with. Cal and Matty broker a merger with them, hoping to expand the Beckett family business by riding the coat-tails of the Albanians’ girls-and-drugs importing trade.
Unfortunately for them, it turns out that ‘merger’ means something completely different in Albanian, more along the lines of ‘let us do what we want or we’ll destroy you’.
Cal finds this out the hard way when, after taking advantage of the Albanians’ one girl per night policy in exchange for letting them peddle their wares in the family establishments, he foolishly makes promises he can’t keep. After taking his latest reluctant conquest back to his dingy warehouse/flat (a place that even Hannibal Lecter would consider a tad creepy) he finds the girl from the previous night in pieces – and I don’t mean emotionally – in his bed.
Talk about awkward. Finding themselves out of their depth, the boys ring Richie. With his memory failing him, he goes along with his sons to a meeting at the Albanians’ farmhouse in order to try and reclaim the torso of the murdered girl, because it has Cal’s DNA (fnar!) all over it and was being used as an ‘insurance policy’.
However, the discussions are abruptly halted when Richie’s eyes glaze over and he attacks the head of the family. Panicking, the Becketts flee with Cal (now in full on gun-toting, sweary ‘Lock, Stock…’ mode) holding the bloodied Albanian boss hostage. On their way back, and after dumping the boss by the roadside, Richie is apprehended by the police and questioned about the unicyclist attack.
Richie knows that all is not well and, despite his outward denials, he finally opens up to his estranged wife about the fear of his mind deteriorating. Even considering the previous bursts of violence, this was undoubtedly the most powerful scene, as this powerful man finally showed his vulnerability and how his very essence was crumbling as a result.
This was backed up by the final shots, which saw Richie being held back by police officers as he watched his office building burn – mirroring the effect his condition is having on his cognitive ability.
Needless to say, The Fear isn’t very easy to watch at times. There’s probably good reason why it’s being shown on consecutive nights rather than every week – partly to keep the intensity and flow of the story, but also because weekly installments would mean that the final episode would be shown on Christmas Eve. Considering the subject matter, it would probably kill anyone’s Christmas vibe if they switched to The Fear straight after after watching ‘Carols from Kings’.
However, what it lacks in early Christmas cheer, The Fear makes up for in a truly gripping story line that stays with you long after the credits roll. The performances are superb, in particular Mullan, who manages to make you root for a predominantly unlikable character (and I’m not just saying this in case he tracks me down).
It’s well worth catching on 4od and it will be fascinating to see how the plot – as well as Richie’s mind – both unravel.