If I say the word ‘clique’, you might think of American high-school groups, or the expletive-ridden Kanye West song. What probably doesn’t spring to mind is a group of young, beautiful student interns. Well, this is exactly what BBC Three’s latest binge-able boxset is all about. Set on the campus of Edinburgh University, Clique, written by former Skins writer Jess Brittain, will reel you in straightaway – whether you’re a current student or wishing you still were one.
The hedonistic opening scene introduces childhood best friends Georgia (The Fall’s Aisling Franciosi) and Holly (Synnove Karlsen) dancing and having pre-drinks in their student hall kitchen. In their first term as freshers, they are enjoying their student freedom, but it quickly becomes obvious that Holly is the ‘mature one’, looking after the easily-influenced Georgia on nights out. Georgia equally shows her reliance on Holly when, at their first economics lecture, Georgia admits ‘I took this course because you did’. It’s clear that this co-dependent relationship will be tested as the girls navigate their semi-adult lives as students.
Clique, written by former Skins writer Jess Brittain, will reel you in straightaway – whether you’re a current student or wishing you still were one.
Professor Jude McDermid (Lousie Brealey) pulls no punches in their first lecture, calling all women out on fake feminism and introducing her Women’s Initiative at Solasta Finance, her brother Alistair’s bank. The initiative offers internships to young, ambitious women, giving them head starts in high-flying careers. Places are limited and selective – notably, everyone is model-worthy beautiful. Brittain’s clique is a far cry from Edinburgh’s other famous heroin-addicted youths in Trainspotting. But strip back the expensive clothes and glass-fronted buildings, and it’s the same hedonistic lifestyle in Scotland’s capital which is still drawing writers in.
Obviously, all is not what it seems. After Georgia is inducted into Solasta’s world of sex, drugs and alcohol, Holly follows her into the internship, becoming instantly suspicious of several things she witnesses at a party, mostly concerning Solasta’s (and Alistair’s) top girl, Fay, who is at her peak and has a graduate job at Solasta waiting for her. Episode 1 ends with Fay’s suicide, confirming to Holly that something deeply disturbing lurks behind Solasta’s glossy reputation.
The remaining episodes follow Holly as the amateur detective. While she’s trying to keep Georgia out of danger, without fully knowing what this danger is, Holly begins receiving anonymous messages informing her of Solasta’s dodgy business. She uncovers the reality of how girls excel at Solasta, and the truth is disturbing but perhaps not shocking: once you’ve got the feel for the drama, you can almost see it coming. Despite this, Brittain keeps a dramatic final twist for the last episode, explaining everything. Like most psychological crime thrillers, it all comes back to childhood. Throughout the series, scenes are intercut with flashbacks of Holly aged 11, and piecing these together reveals that Holly also has a secret which is the reason for her close bond with Georgia.
The show must also be praised for its female-led cast and plot. Brealey, perhaps best known as Sherlock‘s pathologist Molly Hooper, makes a star turn as Professor McDermid. Most of the screen time favours Holly’s perspective as she uncovers who, or what, pushed Fay over the edge. Apart from guarded comments about the elusive ‘Steiner account’, which isn’t fully explained, it’s simple, yet intriguing, to follow what’s happening at Solasta. The resolution, catching up with the girls two months after the climactic events, is perhaps surprising. Brittain wanted to explore female friendships at the most turbulent time – university – and take them to their extremes. The crime-thriller and mystery aspect certainly does that, making it as addictive as the clique’s lifestyle.