It’s been described as an unmissable blend of Skins and Broadchurch, yet E4’s recent 8-part murder mystery Glue has certainly created its own identity, through an exciting mix of young tragedy, fearless romance and disturbing revelations triumphed by a talented cast, indie soundtrack and exquisite scenes of the Berkshire countryside.
Warning: Spoilers follow!
Created by BAFTA award-winning writer Jack Thorne, Glue has it all, from full frontal nudity, brutal violence and rampant drug use, to galloping racehorses and woodland raves.
The series begins with a powerful shot of James (Billy Howle) running naked through yellow-cropped fields to join his frivolous, pill-popping friends in a grain silo. There, he partakes in a risky game of jumping into mountains of grain and sinking as if to be suffocated before being yanked out at the last moment. Such audacity sets the tone for the series with something equally perilous occurring with each episode.
Early on, it is revealed that Cal (Tommy Lawrence Knight), a young boy from the travelling community in the village of Overton, has been brutally murdered. The morning after, it’s James who discovers his cold, motionless body, triggering a series of events that rock his tight-knit rural community, and presenting the crux of the series – who killed Cal?
Throughout, Cal makes appearances from beyond the grave, mainly in the memory of James, and Cal’s pensive older brother Eli (Callum Turner). He offers them advice at key points yet acts as a persistent source of confusion and sorrow. His presence highlights the depth of loss felt by Eli and James whilst his calm, soothing voice contrasts well with their erratic behaviour.
Called to investigate Cal’s death is Ruth (Yasmin Paige), an ambitious young police officer, also of traveller origin. Ruth is both unstoppably brave and sharply intelligent, crushing any prejudgments about her ability as a police officer associated with her feeble appearance or role as a single parent.
Slowly, other characters arise, including Cal’s ever pensive older brother, a young vet Janine (Faye Marsay), Annie (Jessie Cave), an optimistic hippie, and Tina (Charlotte Spencer), an aspiring jockey and girlfriend to playful dosser Rob (Jordan Stephens of Rizzle Kicks).
Tina’s relationship with Rob is turbulent; from throwing the race of her career to protect him from danger to naively asking for his hand in marriage, Rob continuously, although unintentionally, abuses Tina’s love, eventually pushing her to find solace in Eli, prompting a bond of relentless passion and lust that makes Glue persistently thrilling.
Gradually, the youngsters are questioned on their antics at the grain silo, yet all claim innocence. Shortly after, Ruth discovers that vet Janine has been attacked, which sees the pace of the series pick up as the quest to find a potential serial killer casts a sinister shadow over the community.
Later it’s revealed that Cal and James were in love and had planned to leave Overton. Despite this James is arrested on suspicion of murder, an event that emphasises the depth of his fragility.
By episode six, James is released but Ruth’s co-worker Ian (Griffin Stevens) has been murdered and Janine has died in hospital. Pivotally, when Ruth visits Eli, he reveals, in a shocking twist, that it was in fact him who killed his brother Cal, in an angry rage after hearing his plans to leave Overton. Ruth lets Eli go uttering “blood for blood” in the Romany language.
Finally, Eli decides to make James pay for influencing Cal to leave. At the peak of a desolate hill, Eli puts a gun to James’ head, creating an epic movie-like moment. The others arrive to stop Eli, who now holds the gun to his own head before Tina courageously pulls it away and he is arrested, drawing the series to a dramatic conclusion.
Throughout Glue you can’t help but be drawn in by Tina’s zest for life and purposeful dreams, whilst Eli’s consistent melancholy and James’ hazed eyes and vivid hallucinations produce an anxious undertone that keeps you gripped until the very end.
Use of the Romany language and Ruth’s struggle to accept her roots provide a soulful edge while the chilling nature of each murder presents the countryside as dark and unsettling.
The series is easy to follow yet gives little away until the final moments, and as an acting debut for one half of hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks, Jordan Stephens is believable, both through his wild antics and endearing chemistry with Tina, gaining him praise alongside more established young actors like Yasmin Paige.
The unexplored character of Annie breeds one slight criticism however; present in countless scenes but leader of none, Annie is a complex and intriguing character who seems to be under-utilised – it would have been interesting to see her have a drama of her own.
Yet overall, an energetic cast and gruesome plot involving betrayal and despair in an idyllic landscape make Glue a thought-provoking, bold and at times, utterly mesmerising series.
All episodes of Glue are now available to catch on 4oD.