The Beast Must Die is the new revenge thriller that everyone is talking about, so we caught up with the show’s star, Cush Jumbo, to tell us everything we need to know about it.
“I am going to kill a man. I know his name. I know what he looks like. The only thing I don’t know is how…”
The opening lines in Cush Jumbo’s new thriller, The Beast Must Die, will immediately suck you into a dark world of revenge, twists and, perhaps surprisingly, twisted humour. The first two episodes of the new five-part series have just been released on BritBox, and anyone who loves a crime drama won’t be able to resist its murky and intense charms.
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Set on the Isle of Wight, The Beast Must Die follows the story of the hit and run of a young boy, whose mother, Frances (Jumbo), is intent on avenging his death. This drive to get revenge keeps her going in a hunt to find and kill the man she believes was behind the wheel of the car. While she takes things into her own hands, the troubled yet brilliant Detective Strangeways has to unpick this web of tragedy and steer a course to justice.
Stylist caught up with Jumbo to find out everything you need to know about the show…
You are amazing at taking on these dark roles in thrillers – what appeals about this genre, and what did you like about playing Frances in particular?
I got very excited when I read the script, I couldn’t put it down. I love a dark thriller; that’s what I enjoy most when I’m watching television. I like playing a person who’s pretty normal and ends up having to do extraordinary, high-risk things, because I hate it when you watch something where they go on a revenge mission and suddenly they know how to shoot a gun or chop up a dead body. I liked that at every step of the way, Frances had to work out “how do I do this? How does this affect me?”
This role was a little gift. I was meant to be in the stage production of Hamlet and that got postponed because of the pandemic, so I became available for it.
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There are so many times when the viewer might get frustrated by Frances’ actions, even though we know how much she’s hurting – did you feel that frustration too?
She’s so driven by revenge: “If I kill this man who killed my son, I’ll feel better”. She doesn’t even think about what will happen afterwards. But as time goes on, because she is somebody with morals and relates to people – she’s a good teacher with good friends –her empathy keeps getting in the way and they are challenges for her. So sometimes you’re like ‘Yes Frances, you go get it girl!” then the next you’re like “Oh Frances, stop.”
A lot of it is about grief on an extreme and epic scale. But when you’re that grief stricken and you don’t care about anything anymore, what makes you feel better: to seek revenge or to just let it go? And we’ve all thought about that before, what we would do if something like that happened: could we forgive? But also, because it is such an extreme situation it can feel ridiculous – so that’s where this dark humour in the series comes through. There needs to be some lightness.
How did you feel about taking on a character that was grief stricken over her son?
I was living on the Isle of Wight in a Covid bubble with my two-year-old son and husband. My son in the show is six so I straight away was able to get inside having lost him and it was strange because I’d do these long shooting days where I’d be completely grief stricken, then I’d go home and play with my son for a couple of hours and I’d actually feel guilty for Frances because she wasn’t getting to do that (this was also probably a sign that I was really tired!).
It was helpful and hard having my son around; it gave me some lightness because of what I was shooting, but it also weighed on me heavier when I stepped back into her emptiness again.
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What about the dynamic between Frances and the detective – how does that develop through the series and why should viewers keep an eye on it?
You see them together in scenes at the beginning and then their stories run parallel; they don’t come back into contact for a couple of episodes. He doesn’t know what she’s getting up to and she doesn’t think he’s doing anything to help. He also has his own demons to wrestle with.
But the main thing that tangles them together is that he’s struggling with PTSD from losing somebody that he didn’t care about at all, and she’s struggling to cope with losing somebody she cared enormously about. It sets both of their worlds into a spin and that’s how they keep getting tangled up with each other.
What are your favourite shows?
I like all of the dark Nordic shows! I also really like a British crime drama; before I started working on Vera, I used to watch it. I also love Dexter, Luther and Breaking Bad. And there’s a movie I love called Blue Ruin, a small film that won a couple of awards a few years ago. I remember a scene with a normal guy struggling to move a dead body – because that’s really hard to do in real life, and he can’t make it work. I like stuff like that, when the real world smashes into quite a dark world.
What makes you feel better: to seek revenge or to just let it go?
After being postponed during the pandemic, you’re set to finally star in Hamlet on the stage – how do you feel about that?
I feel elated and emotional. I want to believe it’s going to happen, because everything is going well now and I’m in prep for it. I only have 10 days between the job I’m doing now and starting that – 10 days isn’t a long time to learn all those soliloquies! So I’m prepping up here [in Manchester] on weekends and evenings.
I am so thrilled to be part of the theatre reopening and bringing our audiences back, helping people feel comfortable again. But I feel like the show I would have done last year has disappeared into the ether. The show I’m doing this year will be somehow even more of an adventure because I’m not the same person I was – just due to the facts of life and what’s happened.
Also, the audience isn’t going to be the same people – some of the people might have passed away. The energy has changed, so I have a solid job to deliver what people really need and explore the story’s themes as much as I can – laughter, tears… I feel like I’ve been gifted this opportunity. Regardless of what happens, I will be there, I’ll be standing on the stage doing it. If I’m not on stage in Hamlet, I’ll be drinking a lot of wine!
The Beast Must Die is available to watch on BritBox now.
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