In this incredibly smart thriller from the BBC, a brother and sister struggling to cope with their father’s rapidly-progressing Alzheimer’s find themselves embroiled in a decades-old mystery, the key to which may forever be locked away in their father’s deteriorating mind. This powerful 2011 series features the wonderful John Simm and Jim Broadbent as the aforementioned father and son, as well as Olivia Colman appropriately cast in a far more serious role than I am accustomed to seeing her. The series also showcases the directing talents of John Alexander (who previously directed Simm in two episodes of Life on Mars) and writers Paul Abbott (who penned the phenomenal 2003 series, State of Play, which also starred John Simm) and Daniel Brocklehurst.
Simm takes the lead as Tom, a former tabloid reporter who reluctantly returns home after eighteen years to aid his sister (Colman) in caring for their father, Sam (Broadbent), a once reputable journalist suffering from crippling dementia. With little else to do back in his hometown of Lancashire, Tom becomes obsessed with finding out why his father had nearly beat him to death eighteen years earlier, a task obviously severely complicated by his father’s disease. Tom’s investigation points toward a conspiracy in which his father may have been involved, a conspiracy somehow linked to respected, local politician Donald Metzler. Desperate for answers that his father cannot give him, Tom must pursue his investigation even at the cost of his father’s reputation.
What I find truly exciting about Exile is the way in which the series’ thriller elements emerge naturally out of the human element. This human element manifests curiously in the form of “disease of the week” TV movies and similar such family dramas about both child and drug abuse. In this, Exile turns both the thriller and the television family drama on their heads by combining the two in equal parts to create a uniquely complete hybrid of both. This makes for an exceptional three hours of viewing that both fans of the family drama and mystery will appreciate.
The only issue I had with the series, really, stems from the abandonment of Tom’s drug addiction at the opening of the series shortly into the first episode. Surely, I thought at the outset of the series, this weakness will affect Tom’s ability to navigate his way through the mystery into which his quest to resolve his relationship with his father propels him. Yet it’s quickly forgotten and has no direct bearing on the events that follow. However, writers Abbott and Brocklehurst’s decision to abort this narrative thread has some justification in Tom’s fanatical pursuit of Metzler, which can be interpreted as something of a replacement addiction for the character. Moreover, the junky narrative, though brief, reinforces the family drama by its mere inclusion, since drug addiction has historically been a key focus in the televised family drama.
The series originally aired as three, one-hour-long episodes, but BFS Entertainment’s DVD release of Exile presents the series in two feature-length installments instead. I hadn’t the slightest suspicion that this was not the proper presentation whilst viewing the series. In fact, I only became aware of the discrepancy while viewing the hour-long behind-the-scenes featurette included on the BFS release. Despite this incongruity between the series’ televised and home video presentations, Exile plays incredibly well in this two-episode format. The first episode sets up Tom’s personal dilemma and plants the seeds of the mystery that unfolds in episode two, wherein the tension rises and the pace picks up considerably. This format really highlights the extremely personal, family-oriented nature of the series detailed above, and thus makes total sense.