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Stag is a darkly comic murder mystery that takes the English class system by the horns

Karl Quinn

Published: February 9 2018 - 11:45PM

Made for the BBC in 2016 but only now surfacing locally, Stag (ABC Comedy, Wednesday 9.30pm) is a strange but wonderful creature, a hybrid of survivalist drama, black comedy and class warfare set against the magnificent landscape of the Scottish Highlands.

Imagine an Agatha Christie murder mystery crossed with Straw Dogs but made by The League of Gentlemen (whose Reece Shearsmith​ crops up in a small role) and you'll have some idea what to expect: a very dark, very funny, very violent whodunit in which a bunch of Londoners on a stag-hunting stag weekend are picked off by person or persons, and for reason or reasons, unknown. And then there were none, laddie.

Our entree to the story is Ian (Jim Howick), the odd man out in so many ways. He's the brother of the bride to be, and no one expected him to turn up. That partly explains why they've left him standing in the rain at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere while they play drinking games in the pub. Really, though, it's because the six of them are an exclusive bunch – they went to school together, most of them work together as bankers in the city, and they each hold a share in a dodgy scheme in Guernsey that stands to net them millions.

Ian, well, he's a teacher and a bit of a dag, but, it turns out, a pretty good man in a pinch.

The groom Johnners (Stephen Campbell Moore) spends the entire series in a pink deer onesie, but it's best man Ledge (J.J. Feild) – short for Legend – who fancies himself leader of this pack. Pity his every decision only leads them deeper into danger.

When Ian steps up to the plate, offering to use his geography teacher know-how to get them out, Ledge wants to know how much he earns.

"Twenty-one thousand," says Ian.

"I'm not comfortable taking orders from a guy who only earns 21,000 a month," says Ledge.

"A year," someone corrects him.

"F--- me."

As they struggle for survival/plunge towards extermination, each of them reveals a secret (or two). Cosmo (Rufus Jones), for instance, is a TV producer who acts like he's on top of the world but if his next series – How to Look Good Homeless – doesn't get up he's ruined.

Cosmo desperately wants to be one of the gang, but when he thinks standing apart might save him he's happy to stand apart. "I'm a television executive," he pleads. "One of the good guys." Good luck with that one, mate.

What Stag really has in its crosshairs is the toxic culture bred by the English public school system: the animosity masquerading as mateyness; the social networks built on mutual self-interest; the obsession with status and belonging, and the eagerness to cut adrift anyone who threatens that. Scratch the surface of all this Hooray Henry bonhomie, Stag suggests, and you'll find the chaps don't much like each other at all.

Special mention should go to Bondi Hipster Christiaan Van Vuuren, who turns up as the tattooed wild man Christoph. Is he the killer? Well, maybe. He's certainly unhinged enough.

"If you've got cage-fighting gloves, now would be a good time to put them on," he tells his friends – if that's what they really are – as they set out to escape the Scottish gamekeeper (James Cosmo) who seems another prime suspect.

Later, in the woods, he produces a stash of drugs, strong enough to knock Johnners out cold.

"What did you give him," asks Ian.

"I dunno," says Christoph. "The guy at Glasgow station just called it a pick'n'mix."

Stag is a bit the same. It's a real mixed bag that won't be to everyone's taste, but for the game it's full of sweet surprises – and a few nasty ones too.  

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