If you looked hard enough at any harrowing case, you’d probably uncover layers of humanity behind the crime. But in a mostly black-and-white world where evidence is prioritised over emotion, opportunities to explore deeper motivations (societal forces, personal misfortune, etc) are often neglected.
In You Don’t Know Me, car salesman Hero (a breathlessly precise performance from Samuel Adewunmi) has that rare chance in court. He's on trial for murder and instead of a defence lawyer preparing the closing speech, Hero decides to deliver his own – stressing his innocence. Despite a sightly contrived premise, which could’ve easily led into a formulaic fight for justice, this four-part drama from Vigil writer Tom Edge twists around a morally complicated labyrinth. No turning provides an easy solution.
Hero (right) is accused of murdering Jamil (Roger Jean Nsengiyumva, left). Photo: BBC
You Don’t Know Me starts simply. Hero tells the jury the story from his point of view, but he's warned not to add to the evidence already presented. He’s accused of murdering a local dealer, Jamil (Roger Jean Nsengiyumva), and the murder weapon was found in Hero’s flat. His hair was retrieved from Jamil’s car. And he was caught on CCTV speeding towards what would become a crime scene.
‘[Y]ou could have all that evidence, and you still wouldn’t understand what happened,’ Hero says, starting his series-long statement. His account involves a young woman, the well-read Kyra (Sophie Wilde), who kicked off this madness. We flick into flashbacks, the evidence modified, with an absorbing and well-structured voiceover narration.
Sophie Wilde stars as the well-read Kyra. Photo: BBC
Hero’s account, emphasised as the ‘truth’ of what happened, becomes more ethically dubious as the series continues. You realise he’s not completely absolvable. His journey with Kyra and connection with Jamil plunges him further into a dark underworld operating across north and south London, vaguely reminding this critic of Lennie James’s brutal missing-persons drama Save Me. He slips out of his depth, facing awful choices that become progressively worse and nearly impossible to navigate.
It’s the same with the characters around Hero. As well as seeing new sides to them, which are different from their charming or deplorable first impressions, you also see what they’re truly capable of. The series is occasionally burdened by repetitive phrases – puncturing Edge’s otherwise genuine and riveting dialogue – but one of the better ones is ‘seeing’ situations even if you dislike or hate them. It’s a means-to-an-end mentality that often confuses the objectivity of the law.
But as Hero’s reliability distorts, a question forms: are those justifications honest or a way to manipulate the jury?
Those moral ambiguities can be frustrating to peel back. You’re lashed with wave after wave of plot twists and revelations, adding further complications right to the very end. Every time you’re sure of the truth, Edge – adapting the novel by Imran Mahmood – throws you off-balance again.
You Don’t Know Me acutely subverts storytelling expectations, placing you in the same difficult quandary as the jury deciding the sentence. It’s a moral minefield of empathy and understanding that leaves you in the uncomfortable position of judgement. A thrilling and thoughtful drama.
You Don't Know Me airs on Sunday 5 December at 9pm on BBC One.
|What||You Don't Know Me, BBC One review|
05 Dec 21 – 05 Dec 22, ON BBC ONE
06 Dec 21 – 06 Dec 22, ON BBC ONE
|Website||Click here for more information|