So it’s a whodunit, set in a South London block of flats, where all the neighbours are the suspects. Oh and the victim has been gathering dust for a couple of years because no one even realized she’d disappeared, and the cop has just retired but is pretending he’s still in active service while he attempts to solve his final case.
What Remains is a very easy story to pitch, and I think that’s why I like it. Having spent the previous year in LA “having meetings” I came to appreciate how important it is to be able to reduce your entire plot to three or four sentences, before receiving the inevitable Hollywood stare and a map to find your way back to the car park.
I hadn’t written a whodunit before. In fact I’ve spent the majority of my career trying to avoid detective dramas and cops in general. I always said “No, thank you” when The Bill called. I’ve just never been a fan of the crime-solving genre. The writer’s attempts to make the crime feel “personal” to the cop always seem slightly forced (“She was a Sagittarius, just like my dead wife!”). But I couldn’t entirely avoid the boys in blue for this story.
You can’t have a whodunit without an investigator – people would complain! The solution for me was to find a way to have DI Len Harper (the awesome “post Frank” David Threlfall) not really being a cop at all. Once I made the decision that he was retiring midway through the first episode, the victim’s character somehow fell into place with it. What connected the cop to the victim wasn’t a star sign or an appreciation for Mexican food, it was that they were both lonely. They had reached a point in their lives where everyone had stopped noticing them. Len wants to solve this case because he doesn’t have anything else to fill his days with, and gradually he’s going to see that for himself.
After human remains are discovered in a loft, DI Len Harper discusses the victim.
I like to spy on my neighbours. Not in a blatantly creepy way, just the curtain twitching variety of spying. Watching them come and go at all hours, hearing them fight and scream at one another. We all wonder what really goes on behind those closed doors, don’t we? We all take a sneaky peak inside their recycling bins when we walk by. I guess that’s what I was trying to tap into when creating the suspects in this drama. There’s the side of the neighbor that is real, and there’s the side that we create in our heads. We may convince ourselves that they play their music too loud because they’re selfish, when perhaps in reality they are merely attempting to drown out the screams of their victims. Perception versus reality.
So I created these suspects – these little family units, stacked up like building blocks – by contrasting what their neighbours thought of them, to what they really are. And I suppose what connects the suspects to one another is that - like our cop and our victim - they are either lonely or terrified of being alone. And that’s how we all go through life, isn’t it?
So here we have it: What Remains - a whodunit, set in a block of flats. Simple.
- Blog post republished from the BBC Media Centre website where you can also explore character biogs and Q&As with the cast.
- Download the script for Episode 1 of What Remains from the BBC writersroom Script Library.
- Watch the first 2 episodes back on BBC iPlayer and view video interviews with the cast and crew via the programme page.
Read Production Designer Lisa Marie Hall's blog post on creating the set for What Remains, on the BBC TV Blog.