The Channel 4 ‘Walter Presents’ platform has gone from strength to strength since its introduction in January, and it’s done so largely due to gritty and foreboding drama, with barely a ray of sunlight nor a redeemable character in sight. While the latter is still a questionable quality in Belgium’s The Out-Laws – original title, Clan – it’s a noticeably sunnier and, dare I say, light-hearted, affair than much of what I’ve come across via Walter Presents so far.
It is certainly contentious to call it light-hearted – given that it boils down to a show where cold-blooded murder is the happy-ever-after. But that is what it is about – The Out-Laws follows Eva, Bibi, Veerle & Bekka, four inseparable sisters, who conspire to murder Jean-Claude, the racist, abusive and just plain-old nasty husband to the fifth sister, Goele, who has drifted away from them thanks to her marriage. As the show rewinds to display the sisters’ increasingly desperate attempts, it also picks up in the ‘present day’, with Jean-Claude now dead, as the two brothers who hold his insurance policy look into the suspicious circumstances around his death.A programme that features murder – or at least conspiracy to murder (with an element of ‘whodunit’ emerging as the series progresses) – isn’t usually happy viewing, but then the would-be killer’s unpreparedness is the whole point of the show. Two of them are married with kids, one works in an ostensibly straightforward office job, and one works as a lingerie model and a masseuse while going on a hopeless amount of dates. Or, as Bekka herself sums up rather more succinctly and eloquently – ‘Four women from fucking Vredegem, who’s going to believe that we murdered our brother-in-law?’. Yet the whole thing works – and that’s largely down to some great chemistry between the cast (as well as a beautifully ingenious title sequence!).
If we’re meant to believe that these sisters would kill for each other – even just to rid one of the ‘wrong husband’ – then the strength of their bond had to translate to the screen. And it does, brilliantly. In every combination – the main four conspirators, all five sisters with Goele included, and in various other groupings – there’s the expected clash of personalities, but also a sense of harmony and shared awareness. Just watching the sisters banter or bicker (often both at once) makes for amusing and endearing viewing, and the added twist of an inherently entertaining premise adds to the spectacle.While the balance between comedy and drama is held well from episode to episode, there is a sense by the end that perhaps ten was one or two episodes too many. From a comedic point of view, the variety of murder attempts and the different ways to fail are morbidly humorous, and the sheer amount of them only amplifies the comedy. Yet from a dramatic point of view, it does feel like the same conclusion could have been accomplished with less. It’s also a question of morality – by around episode eight I was wondering whether the aim really justified the means, and the not-insubstantial collateral damage accrued along the way.
Saying that, the conclusion is, without giving anything away, satisfying to say the least. As with any good ending, it ties up loose ends cleanly and efficiently, but more importantly, it does so in a way that rescues that aforementioned morality, without sacrificing the integrity of any one characterisation. Not one character could be said to act in a way that didn’t make perfect sense, and so for all the questions of pacing, it all works out in the end.
All in all, The Out-Laws is a refreshing change to the more traditional tone that accompanies most crime drama, and with a fantastic set of characters to boot. Is it a bit silly? Absolutely – but it’s all the better for it.
The Out-Laws is released on DVD Monday 19th September by Nordic Noir & Beyond.