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The Syndicate is BBC’s latest evening entertainment offering in the form of a northern drama. The plot centres on five main characters who are all shown in their previous lives as low-paid hospital workers. With an alcoholic, a ditsy daughter, and an opinionated gran among them they’re an odd bunch to say the least. They enter into a syndicate to win the lottery and in a lucky swing of fate… they win! And they win big, £72 Million big. (Well it had to be enough to be able to afford more than a new Ford family care or the series would become a little tedious…)
Each episode is focussed on one particular character’s story. However, the first episode from this week, follows the syndicate as a whole as they chase the lottery ticket that Becky, daughter of Mandy and Tom Atkinson, wrote her number down on and handed over to Luke, a café barista for a football stadium, during a night out. Luckily, Luke doesn’t realise that he has the ticket and when it is revealed that he had it all along, he says he would rather have got to know Becky than cashed the money in for himself. Aww, but would he really? I imagine this Romeo and Juliet story will carry on throughout the remaining episodes.
And this isn’t the only difficulty thrown in for viewers in the first episode. A bitter ex-member of the syndicate reappears when she claims it was her numbers that won the lottery for them even though she no longer pays into the group. At the end of the episode during the ‘Next Week’ titles, we are given a small glimpse of this dragon-esque woman, hell-bent on reaping revenge and causing trouble for the group… brilliant.
Now, all of this sounds like it could be a real fun and comical series, and when first choosing to watch the programme, I assumed that is what it would be. However, soon things take a turn towards the darker side of fortune. After all, what do you have to worry about when you’re stupidly rich?
During a television interview with the media, Mandy is asked what she would spend the money on whilst her abusive husband and innocent daughter sit at home watching. Tom, the husband, gets annoyed when Mandy doesn’t instantly think of anything whilst being on television but the shit really hits the fan when she says she’ll buy herself a little house somewhere.
Upon returning to her home, Tom grabs hold of her and pins her against the door, threatening to kill her if she ever runs away from him or does as she says and finds herself a little house somewhere. When she calms him down by offering to bring him a beer into the living room, the scene gets somewhat more sinister when we see Mandy dosing drugs into Tom’s beer before serving it to him. Dark times indeed.
Onto the acting in this drama so far. The first episode is definitely something different and the production as a whole is somewhat more tangible than programmes such as Utopia or Black Mirror. These characters are real people with jobs that exist and they face real problems. I must admit, the northern accent makes all these characters appear more natural, normal, and just down-to-earth! Sorry Londoners, but the friendly northern accent lends itself to this programme rather well!
The initial acting from Natalie Gavin is a little melodramatic, especially when coupled with her brightly coloured costume choices, making her look more Vicky Pollard than realistic modern day teen (not particularly a great move by the costume designer), but she soon becomes easier to watch and even adds a little comedy to some otherwise darker scenes.
Acting credit for this episode go to Siobhan Finneran as she plays the seemingly level-headed mum perfectly. Her reactions to the abusive nature of her husband are a brilliant portrayal of fear muddled with bravado. Ultimately she seems to display exceptional characterisation in relationships towards every other individual she faces in the episode.
The Syndicate has definitely started with a bang and will soon be a must-watch for BBC. If you can stick with with the first half an hour or so through the set up, then you’re in for a treat. It appears the series will be a lot more than gallivanting around with a tonne of money and perhaps turn more Lord of the Flies before we know it. It will really get you thinking, what would you do if you won the lottery?