It would be unfair to see Boat Story (BBC Two) as wholly derivative, because it boasts plenty of original flourishes. Yet there is a very recent precedent for its plot premise: blameless civilians chance upon a vast stash of drugs, decide to sell it, thus coming to the attention of scary, stop-at-nothing criminals. No this is not Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws but might they perhaps be related?
In this case, the bricks of cocaine are found on a beached fishing boat by Janet (Daisy Haggard) and Samuel (Paterson Joseph) when dogwalking. Random strangers yoked together by fate – and the need for cash – they are soon reacting to events that spin far beyond their control. Among those seeking retribution or compensation or both is a gnarled French cartel boss who styles himself The Tailor (Tchéky Karyo) and his trigger-happy enforcer Guy (Craig Fairbrass).
This boxsetted six-parter is the latest from the Williams brothers Harry and Jack, who started in comedy before shifting into laughless thrillers. Marrying up the two, at times it makes for an ungainly merger that slaloms too wildly between carefree irony and repellent savagery. In the first episode, a tongue is severed with brutal nonchalance while bodies pile profligately high in a Tarantino-esque killing spree.
Boat Story’s script throws all the inverted commas it can think of around this next-level video game violence. There are regular updates from an oh-so-knowing deep-voiced American narrator, while flickering silent-movie plates announce the next chapter with arch titles. At a certain point the entire drama finds itself being played out as a meta-musical.
The clever-cleverness is diverting, but to stick with it you’ll need to give a fig. Paterson and Haggard (whose character has for no relevant reason lost her hand in an industrial accident) are blessedly likeable: every time someone threatens to waste them, you cross fingers for their preservation. Meanwhile, much effort is made to humanise the villains. One of them aches to be a potter, another is addicted to fortune telling, and The Tailor no sooner arrives from France than he’s fallen in love with pasties, and mystifyingly with the baker (Joanna Scanlan) who makes them.
Years ago the Williamses incurred audience wrath with the maddening denouement of The Missing. By Boat Story’s last episode there is much discussion about how the story might end, and this is perhaps just another way of copping out. But it’s mostly good fun while it lasts.