A Confession episode 3 review - the truth emerges at last, but has Fulcher done the right thing?

 A stand-out Joe Absalom and Martin Freeman as prime suspect Christopher Halliwell and policeman Steve Fulcher
A stand-out Joe Absalom and Martin Freeman as prime suspect Christopher Halliwell and policeman Steve Fulcher

It only took two episodes to all but wrap up the whodunit, but four episodes remained and much story was left to tell in A Confession (ITV). Its writer, Jeff Pope, has consistently been more interested in the stories around a crime rather than the crime itself, whether that’s the intricacies of police procedure that brought DI Steve Fulcher (Martin Freeman, ever the stressed-out everyman) low even as he ensured the right man was arrested for murder, or the complexities of familial relations and how buried resentments can be disinterred by grief, as the extended families of Sian O’Callaghan and Becky Godden are soon to discover.

Last night featured the titular confession itself, taken by Fulcher without the presence of a lawyer and without cautioning his suspect. “This is your last chance to do the right thing,” he informed local taxi driver and prime suspect Christopher Halliwell (Joe Absolom), but Fulcher might equally have been talking to himself. For all that he felt the urgency of finding Sian, missing but not necessarily dead, Fulcher knew deep down that he might be compromising the case.

As it was, the spectre of press intrusion into his family was enough to provoke Halliwell into taking Fulcher and his colleagues to Sian’s body, albeit after a tense journey that made me wonder if Halliwell was buying time or just making it up. The destination indicated not. Then, chillingly: “Want another one?” That other one was, of course, Becky Godden. It made Fulcher’s decision both entirely understandable and unforgivably reckless.

The horror of Halliwell’s crimes was underscored by a creeping unease, expressed first by Fulcher’s deputy and then his superiors, that his approach might backfire. With Halliwell now no commenting on the advice of his obstreperous duty solicitor and refusing to sign his earlier ad hoc confession, Fulcher’s desperation to secure something admissable in court mounted. First he appealed to Halliwell’s conscience then wired up Halliwell’s daughter to prise out a confession, both in vain. Supporting evidence – blood stains, DNA – was stubbornly slow to emerge.

And then came confirmation that Becky had been found. Imelda Staunton’s astonishing, appalling primal scream as Fulcher broke the news (or rather didn’t – she just knew anyway) will linger long in the memory – but this episode belonged to Joe Absolom. His career has meandered uninspiringly in the shallows of Doc Martin, Casualty and I Spit On Your Grave 2 since he first came to the attention in Albert Square and was framed for murder by Martin Kemp. Halliwell was the sort of character that should have casting directors sitting up once again and considering his range. Dead-eyed, jaw fixed, gaunt, haunted yet somehow also nonplussed, it was a chillingly plausible performance.

Pope and director Paul Andrew Williams showed a keen instinct for the tiny but tellingly human moments: Sian’s boyfriend Kevin (Charlie Cooper) asking to hold her hand; the stoicism of her mother Elaine (Siobhan Finnernan) finally broken by the realisation her young son would never see his sister again; Fulcher’s push-pull between the elation of a job well done and the acknowledgement of a human tragedy – he certainly didn’t look in the mood to receive a standing ovation on his return to the office. Does the end justify the means? Forensic police procedural, wrenching family drama, complex moral treatise: A Confession is working equally well as all three.