Russell Tovey in ghost story ‘The Sister’
Russell Tovey in ghost story ‘The Sister’ © Euston Films/ITV

Dopey Nathan has violated a few rules of sensible conduct, if not of thriller plotting. It wasn’t a great idea to marry the sister of the young woman in whose disappearance he was implicated, especially since her best friend is a police detective.

It’s not really his fault that he has to associate with a disheveled druggy called Bob, because Bob knows too much about the night in question, but it’s odd that the pair of them seem never to have watched a forensics programme. Worst of all, Nathan seems incapable of framing the tiniest fib. A question like “Where were you?” would send him into a sweaty, blank-eyed tizzy even if he was only at the corner shop. Russell Tovey goes full rabbit-in-the-headlights in an enjoyably jittery performance.

Fun-loving Elise meets her maker in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2010, when she rashly accepts a post-party lift with Bob and Nathan. On their way to another jolly, they stop off in a place called The Hollow for a chemical boost. “It’s haunted . . . a grey lady, a witch or something,” says Elise. Years later, this picturesque plot of woodland is being dug up for new housing, and greasy Bob makes an unwelcome reappearance in Nathan’s tidy life. 

Bob’s an old friend with mental health problems, Nathan burbles to his wife Holly (Amrita Acharia). It’s his most successful ad lib by virtue of being almost true. In a more kempt former life, Bob was a psychology prof with an interest in the paranormal. He became interested in ghosts because, he tells Nathan, “I saw one.” “One what?” says our bright spark. “Of course they exist,” Bob claims. “They’re part of our experience.” Jumpy Nathan really ought to turn more lights on in the cavernous home he shares with Holly, its walls filled with pictures of the dead girl. 

This four-part mini-series feels about one episode too long (Holly’s bouts of emotional exposition, glass of red in hand, slow the pace), but there’s a neat twist that keeps it going.

Bertie Carvel is marvellously Mephistophelian as Bob, who could equally be Nathan’s saviour or his downfall. The pair are almost farcically hopeless at covering their tracks, taking phone calls in incriminating locations, drawing attention by shouting in public, lingering in spots where their licence plate could be noted. Nathan is up to his elbows in DNA; no wonder he spends so much time crying in bathrooms. Holly’s brave assertion, “She’s here in spirit!” could be more true than she knows.

★★★★☆

On ITV from October 26 at 9pm

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