Hit for Six Four
Six Four transplants the basis of a Japanese novel to the streets of Glasgow, where the disappearance of a young girl has haunting parallels to a previously unsolved case. Creator Gregory Burke and stars Kevin McKidd and Vinette Robinson reveal more.
Described as a dark plunge into a crime like no other, Japanese author Hideo Yokoyama’s novel Six Four follows a police officer as he is forced to revisit the botched investigation into the kidnapping of a young girl – a case strikingly similar to the disappearance of his own daughter.
Inspired by Yokoyama’s story, ITV’s four-part miniseries of the same name now transplants the action to the streets of Glasgow. Here, serving police officer Chris O’Neill is led to examine the mistakes and subsequent cover-up involved in the investigation into a missing girl called Julie Mackie, just as his own daughter has gone missing.
Meanwhile, his wife Michelle, a former undercover officer, takes matters into her own hands in the search for their daughter, following a trail of clues into the criminal underworld and to the top of the political establishment.
“There’s a lot of filming going on in Glasgow, but it does feel like a city that’s a little bit underused,” Burke tells DQ about filming in the Scottish city. “But one of the things about this drama is that it doesn’t really take place in a Glasgow people are used to seeing. There are some scenes in council estates and things like that, but it’s more of a drama that takes place in normal suburban locations or well-off, West End-type locations and the city centre. I would hope it shows a different Glasgow than we’re used to seeing, and it feels like we’ve been in a lot of nice houses filming.”
Burke already had a relationship with Tessa Ross and Juliette Howell from series producer House Productions, so when they sent him Yokoyama’s novel, “I was always going to have a read of it,” he says.
Although the “slow burning” story is deeply rooted in Japanese societal themes and issues, he found the cold-case crime story at its centre had the potential to be shifted to a new location.
“I just really love the story at the heart of it, which was about this old man who wanted to find out what happened to his daughter. It felt like a really good starting point for something,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, you can adapt that to anywhere really.’ It’s very human. And that’s really what the show is about; it’s about getting to the truth of what your life is and who you are – and all the rest of it kind of fell away.
“I would say it’s an adaptation. It’s much more inspired by the story. It’s a great story at the heart of the novel. That was the thing I took from it. Then we just made it our own.”
Starring in the ITVX series – which launched last Thursday – are Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy) and Vinette Robinson (Boiling Point), who play Chris and Michelle, a married couple who face the grim prospect of identifying their daughter’s body in the opening scenes of the series. When it turns out to be somebody else, Michelle makes a break for London as the couple seek to resolve the disappearance by their own methods.
“When we meet Chris, he’s in kind of a midlife crisis, I would say. And him and his wife are struggling through their marriage and they’re not very connected,” McKidd explains. “Then things start to unravel: their daughter goes missing, and a case from 16 years ago at the same time bubbles up from the depths. So that reignites him as a detective and as a family man.”
“Michelle has to go back into an old life, which has largely been kept secret,” Robinson says. “The reveal of that adds pressure to their marriage. They’re facing empty-nest syndrome in their marriage, so this crisis point of losing their daughter is bringing everything to the surface. Then they’re left having to deal with the fallout of that.”
Throughout, the show’s competing themes of truth and lies simmer beneath the surface, as secrets from the past threaten to emerge.
“That’s what’s interesting about these characters,” McKidd says, “because there are things that haven’t been talked about for years and years. It’s painful and hard because when untruths and lies have been there for so long, it’s hard to do that work. It’s a really beautiful depiction of a marriage as well as a thriller.”
Robinson says she was particularly drawn to Six Four’s twisty-turny plot, which is filled with intrigue and investigation into the way power structures work. “It’s got all the classic elements of a political crime thriller,” she notes. “But at the heart of it is this relationship between Chris and Michelle. That makes it very relatable.”
The scripts, adds McKidd, “really will keep people on the edge of their seats, wanting to know and needing to know where this is leading. it’s one of these dramas that, to be honest, you’re going to have to pay attention to. It’s not one where you can just sit back and let it wash over you. You have to keep up with it. It’s complex, it’s dense, but it’s very entertaining and compelling.”
Scottish screenwriter and playwright Burke first read the Six Four book in 2018, before the pandemic delayed development of the series, which is distributed by BBC Studios. He then ended up penning episodes one, two and four, while Clare McQuillan came on board to draft episode three.
“It was actually quite a simple process when it came to it because it had to happen quite fast,” he remembers. “After Covid happening, I was on another show and then Six Four got greenlit, so it was basically me saying to Clare, ‘If you do this episode, I’ll do that episode,’ and we worked quite quickly really. Once Kevin came on board as well, because of his schedule – as he has to go back to Grey’s – we had a window of opportunity to do it, so we did it.”
Burke jokes that Six Four could have filled 12 hours of television, such is the length and complexity of its source material. That meant his biggest challenge was trimming it down to just four episodes. That he only used Yokoyama’s novel as inspiration meant he was able to cut back on some of the supporting storylines, though he doesn’t believe that is necessarily a bad thing.
“One thing about television now is we’re used to watching quite long series from America, so everybody was starting to write quite long series,” he says. “The problem with that now is a lot of people zone out with quite long series. I always wanted to keep it quite self-contained. There is quite a bit of action, but there are also a lot of quite long scenes and very intense scenes, particularly between Kevin and Vinette.”
The writer also echoes Robinson’s thoughts on the relationship between Chris and Michelle when he says he wanted to create an emotional heart for the series through their strained marriage.
“It’s an easy way for an audience to get into it, to see a domestic relationship that maybe has in some way become calcified,” he says. “A lot of people have those relationships and live in that type of reality. It was just about wanting to keep a very domestic heart to the show, even though they don’t spend much time together. Actually, they’re pushed apart very early on.”
That meant during filming, McKidd and Robinson spent relatively little time together despite playing a married couple, as each set off on their own “missions.”
“It’s quite an interesting one to play,” says Robinson. “When they do come together, it was really satisfying. But that’s one of the challenges of the piece, I would say.”
“They’re on these different missions in different cities, and Chris especially is desperately trying to reach her,” McKidd says. “So a lot of their stuff is through phone calls, which is quite challenging to get right. But when they do physically come together, it’s very explosive and intense. It’s going to be interesting to watch that as an audience, to see such a troubled but very connected couple at such odds with each other and trying to communicate at a distance in this pivotal moment in their relationship, in their marriage and in their lives.”
On set in Glasgow – additional locations include Edinburgh and the Scottish borders – the lead actors found themselves portraying “big, sweeping scenes” that would run to five or six pages of a script. McKidd compares them to a one act play, as they would usually be two-handers between himself and Robinson, or himself and Andrew Whipp, who plays Chris’s older brother, senior police officer Philip O’Neill.
“My brain can learn a page-and-a-half or two pages in 30 seconds. But if you go back to a six-page-long scene, you have to pull your socks up and get to work,” he says. “It’s been really lovely to really stretch in those scenes.”
Robinson also found those scenes to be the most enjoyable. “You really get into the meat of it and in one scene you get to go through a whole emotional arc,” she says. “They’re just really satisfying to play. That’s been a joy of this piece.”
Like the story of Six Four, McKidd and Robinson always come back to the couple at its centre and how the show’s unfolding thriller elements have far-reaching consequences for the state of their emotions, and their marriage.
“One of the fun and challenging things is also that we have been collaborating as we go along,” Robinson adds. “The structure of the story stayed the same, but the detail of the things has changed and got richer as we’ve had discussions about it, which is really lovely to have because that doesn’t always happen.
“When you do a crime drama, you change one thing and then it ricochets through the whole piece. It’s like a big puzzle, but it’s just really fun to be able to play with this relationship at the centre of this drama.”