ITV’s Liar was set to be a gritty, suspense filled and exciting series. While it was admittedly gripping, the show ultimately failed to live up to expectations. Attracting 8 million viewers per episode, it started off well, but got progressively weaker – much to my disappointment!
The plot had promise. Smooth surgeon Andrew Earlham (Ioan Gruffudd) and teacher Laura Neilson (Joanne Froggart) went on a date; Neilson woke up the next morning claiming she had been raped, while Earlham, seemingly shocked, told the police they had had consensual sex. With Laura tested negative for GHB, and free from any physical signs of assault, viewers had to decide for themselves who was lying in the initial episodes. This made for enthralling TV; we couldn’t condemn either character and so became emotionally invested in both, whilst simultaneously remaining suspicious. This clever writing and convincing performances of both principal actors made highly engaging early viewing.
Andrew turned out to be a cold and sadistic serial rapist, and it was largely left for Laura herself to bring Andrew to justice after the legal system had failed her. The show reflected the reality of the current situation in the UK, where only one in every thirty eight rapes reported reaches a conviction. It reaffirmed the notion that victims are disadvantaged by the Crown Prosecution Service, a similar (and just as effective) message to that of BBC’s Apple Tree Yard. Liar certainly tackled a controversial issue in a way praised by most for its sensitivity and careful research. Produced with the support and advice of three rape charities, Liar, on the whole, seemed to handle the subject matter delicately. A real forensic nurse, for example, conducted the examination of Laura. This was refreshing, with programmes like Game of Thrones coming under fire for glamourising rape, and Poldark for romanticising it.
There were also some clever surprises, such as Andrew’s girlfriend in the finale turning out to be an undercover police officer, and the open ending that left viewers debating who the killer was.
Ultimately, however, sibling writer duo Harry and Jack Williams have produced better material (The Missing, for example, was outstanding). Perhaps the show would have been more effective as a feature length drama, focusing solely on the two protagonists and the notion of a woman’s word against a man’s regarding sexual violence. Instead, Liar sensationalised this concept. What started off as one night of apparent ambiguity became centered around the exploits of a sadist; Andrew’s rape of the detective investigating Laura’s case was an overly dramatic plot turn, as was his recorded assaults of seventeen women. The subtlety of the previous episodes was somewhat ruined by these over-the-top additions. What could have been a potentially strong message about rape and gender was diluted by irrelevant melodrama, averting focus from the central storyline. Laura’s character did not need the added emotions of finding out her sister and ex-boyfriend were having an affair, for example.
The highlight and saviour of the series was undoubtedly the acting of Joanne Froggart. Her emotionally fraught and intense performance was not ruined by overdramatic lingering shots and clichés. Sometimes her character’s actions were implausible; I found myself simultaneously wincing and gripping my chair as she broke into her rapist’s house. There were certainly a few ‘what-was-she-thinking?!’ moments, the Facebook post to name but one. Froggart, however, was highly convincing as the tenacious Laura. Jamie Flatters as Luke Earlham, the son of disgraced Andrew, also put on a powerful performance. I felt deeply sympathetic for his character during the parting shot as the camera zoomed in on the dead body of Andrew on those hauntingly beautiful Essex marshes.
Overall, Liar could have been great and powerful and important; the start made me think perhaps it would be. However, the melodrama became a little frustrating and viewers were somewhat alienated by how sensationalist the plot became. The now confirmed second series will answer some of our remaining questions, I just hope we see Laura and her date Ian (Kieran Bew) settled and happy.