Empathy is the BBC’s answer to Stephen King’s The Dead Zone and stars Stephen Moyer and Mark Womack

“Listen Jimmy,” the old prison hand says at the start of Tim Bradley’s production of BBC Scotland’s new drama Empathy. “There’s only two sorts of blokes walking out the doors. Those looking forward, those looking back.”


On his release from prison for beating a man who assaulted his wife half to death, Jimmy Collins (Stephen Moyer) starts to experience visions from inside the minds of other people when he comes into contact with them — he sees what they see. Walking out past the other inmates watching him is a study in claustrophobia.


When he shakes the hand of the warder bidding him farewell, the apparently decent man is revealed as a man who beats up a woman, and he realizes that a man he bumps into in the street is in fact a pickpocket.


Whilst he struggles to rationalise this unnerving ability, he attempts to forge a relationship with his daughter Amy and to come to terms with the fact that ex-wife Sarah has a second child, by someone else. When he hugs Amy, the strength of his feelings for her physically knocks him backwards.


When he discovers his best friend Jack killed his wife, the other man throws him out. In desperation he goes to the local hospital, who refer him to a neurologist and a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist is glib in the way common to TV psychiatrists and has his condition diagnosed as guilt transferral.


Returning from a friend’s funeral, he brushes against a man on a railway bridge and sees a vision that he is convinced relates to a schoolgirl’s murder.


When Jimmy reluctantly goes to the police, DI Will Benson (Mark Womack) and DS Jo Cavanagh (Heather Peace) are understandably sceptical of his story. That he killed a man while inside only convinces them still further that he’s the guilty man. When the B&B owner who he slept with while her husband was away refuses to corroborate his alibi, the police arrest him.


He is only released when a second murder is committed, the landlady has a change of heart about corroborating his alibi, and closed circuit TV confirms his whereabouts.

Carnival Film’s Empathy is a little too reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone for comfort. Steve Lightfoot’s script is well-written but hardly original, although he does capture well the devastation such a ‘talent’ would have on the original. David Richard’s direction is dark but languid, with the opening twenty minutes spent establishing the story, and it almost falls apart when Collins starts to talk of a ‘purpose’ to his visions.


Part of the slow start and heavy-handed delineation of characters is because ‘Empathy’ is a actually one-off drama that has the feel of the test for a pilot. For all it’s slow start, it’s good enough to warrant a series, if the producers can decide what they want it to be.


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