Big Little Lies became a phenomenon in 2017 with its portrayal of a circle of female friends conspiring to cover up the death of a toxic man. That is also more or less the plot of the BBC’s gripping new thriller The Pact (BBC One, Monday, Tuesday).
The difference is that upper-middle-class California has been replaced by small town south Wales. This is where Anna (Laura Fraser) and her circle of besties (Eiry Thomas, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Heledd Gwynn) have helped bump off their unpleasant, coke-addicted boss Jack (Aneurin Barnard).
But the comparative lack of glamour doesn’t reduce the thrill factor in a series running through the week from Monday to Thursday. The Pact is a whodunit of hidden depths – as well as an affecting depiction of female friendship and of life in a corner of Britain often forgotten by politicians and media.
Anna, Nancy, Cat and Louie are each fully realised, with their own woes and secrets. What unites them is their loathing of Jack, the prince Joffrey-esque scion of the founder of the brewery (Eddie Marsen) at which they are all employed.
The opportunity to strike back at their boss from hell arises at a works do, where they see him off his head and attempting to sexually assault a factory floor colleague. Bundling this terrible excuse for a person into a car, they drive into the woods determined to teach him a lesson.
The idea is to pull his trousers down and take some embarrassing photos. Yet when they return to retrieve Jack, he turns out to have died. This is horrific for all four – but particularly awkward for Anna, whose husband Max (Jason Hughes) is an ambitious copper new to the force and eager to make his reputation. How better to do so than by cracking a murder case?
The Pact is a tautly-observed character study. Anna is having trouble with a tearaway teenager and takes solace in late-period Kate Bush; the other protagonists are variously trapped in dead-end marriages, struggling with kleptomania and trying to move on from a criminal past.
However, it’s a piping hot potboiler to boot. There’s a huge twist at the end of part two, for instance, as Anna discovers Jack died by strangulation. While they were all in the woods, someone tiptoed back and choked the life out of him. It’s the perfect bombshell chucked at just the right moment by former EastEnders writer Pete McTighe– and further proof that, amid a deluge of murder mysteries, this Welsh odyssey is a stonking standout.