ITV’s latest crime drama The Secret is a riveting study of manipulation by a sexual predator, who just happens to be a youth leader and worship leader in a Baptist Church. That’s the central premise of a drama based on a real-life murder case in Northern Ireland.
Murder? Well, it’s certainly going that way by the end of episode one. Colin Howell (played by a chilling James Nesbit) is the outwardly-respectable dentist who becomes attracted to Hazel the Sunday School teacher (played by Genevieve O'Reilly)… and you can guess what happens next. Except that the church’s pastor gets wind of it, challenges all parties to repent and rebuild their lives, and tries to bring about a peaceful resolution of a horrible mess. But the settlement is short-lived… and by the end of part one, Howell is plotting a violent solution of his own.
It’s dark. And many viewers will find the Northern Irish Baptists of the 1990s (portrayed here) as curious or alien as any other community who take their faith and beliefs seriously. Yes, they clap in church, some wave their hands, and its family values all the way where husbands are there to provide for their family, and wives are there to satisfy their husbands. A caricature? Maybe. You’d have to ask the subjects themselves about how well or badly the script has served the story, although the programme-makers claim to have researched it all thoroughly. Laura Bradford, one family member, strongly opposed it: ‘When media interest goes beyond the reporting of events and is against the wishes of family members, the effects can be as devastating as the murder itself.’ (For the full article, read: http://gu.com/p/4tnj7/sbl)
Talking about the real Colin Howell, actor James Nesbitt said, ‘You could tell he was very self-confident, very self-regarding. Religion was very important to him. I said early on, this was someone who made God in his own image.’
But the central character’s mind-set is possibly the most curious thing of all. On one hand. He’s a God-fearing Christian. And on the other hand, he’s an intelligent, manipulative sexual predator. To my mind, they’re contradictions- except that I’ve personally known other people doing something similar. The apparently-devoted family man cheating on his wife and children. The caring Head Teacher who plays cruel mind games with her staff. The school governor dedicated to raising standards and getting her school up the league tables, who then takes her high-performing children out from school for a cheap holiday just before SATs week (not in the same league, but you get the picture).
It’s called segmented behaviour, and we can all slip into it because we’re complicated beings often living confusing lives. Parts of us live and breathe one set of values, but others can live by another set heading in the opposite direction. Sometimes, it gets toxic- and so you get the abusive priest, the corrupt politician, the lying journalist, the crooked lawyer…. and what’s happened with South Yorkshire police and Hillsborough. As Saint Paul put it in a letter, ‘What I want to do, I don’t do, and what I don’t want to do, I do.’ Humanity, eh? It seems that a troubled conscience finally brought Colin Howell’s crimes to light. He couldn’t handle the pressure of living with the hellish contradictions of being someone who said one thing, but did another.
The Ancient Greeks had a word for it: ‘hypocrite’, literally, ‘face-player’, referencing the masks worn by classical actors that became the international symbol of drama and theatre. Jesus had little time for it. Because as he said, in the end, everything hidden will be one day be revealed.