Sundance's 'The Pact' Explores Female Solidarity Gone Wrong

Anna (Laura Fraser), Nancy (Julie Hesmondhalgh), Louie (Eiry Thomas), Cat (Heledd Gwynn) in The Pact (Image Credit: BBC/Little Door (The Pact) Ltd/Warren Orchard)
Anna (Laura Fraser), Nancy (Julie Hesmondhalgh), Louie (Eiry Thomas), Cat (Heledd Gwynn) in The Pact (Image Credit: BBC/Little Door (The Pact) Ltd/Warren Orchard)

The Pact is a six-part thriller making its debut on Sundance Now and AMC+ this week, with new episodes arriving weekly until the finale premieres on Thursday, January 6, 2022. Written and created by Pete McTighe (A Discovery of Witches) and directed by Eric Styles (Hidden) and Rebecca Johnson (Call the Midwife) it has a strong cast and uses some interesting locations in Wales, including the stunning Cefn Viaduct near Merthyr Tydfil and a real-life brewery. The series has some surprisingly powerful moments thanks to its strong cast and intense pacing. Women, including women of color, play dominant roles.

In The Pact, a small Welsh town’s brewery is run by the very unpleasant Jack (Aneurin Bernard), a scion of the town’s industrial aristocracy. He’s a sexual harasser with a drug problem and is currently having an affair with an employee, who, we learn, is getting the promotion that Anna (Laura Fraser) expected. Anna’s friends Nancy (Julie Hesmondhalgh), Louie (Eiry Thomas), and Cat (Heledd Gwynn) commiserate with her but things come to a head on the night of the brewery’s 100th-anniversary party. It’s then the four women lure Jack into the boot of a car, and drive him off to the woods. After taking a few photos, they drive home.

What were they thinking? They’re all drunk, except for Nancy, the designated driver. It’s cold and raining but they have no plans to go back and free him, only vague ideas about posting the photographs on Facebook. At the very least they’ll lose their jobs, and Jack would almost certainly take revenge. Would it mean the end of the brewery and is it the only industry in town, presumably after the coal mines were closed? (And wouldn’t it have been easier to go to HR?)

Naturally, Jack ends up dead, not from exposure, but from strangulation. This puts the women in a very awkward position, particularly Anna, whose policeman husband Max (Jason Hughes) receives a field promotion. His boss D.S. Holland (Rakie Oyula) encourages him to use Anna as a way to gain the trust of the brewery workers. Despite interviews with everyone at the brewery party, the police fail to get a timeline of Jack’s activities that evening.

D.S. Holland (Rakie Oyula), Max (Jason Hughes). (Image Credit: BBC / Little Door (The Pact) / Warren Orchard)
D.S. Holland (Rakie Oyula), Max (Jason Hughes). (Image Credit: BBC / Little Door (The Pact) / Warren Orchard)

Anna is forced to lie again and again as the tension of the story rachets up. And by the second episode a blackmailer appears via burner phone demanding hush money to keep quiet about her involvement. Anna raids the joint savings account, lies to Max about it, and then confesses she’s given it to a friend who is in dire financial straits. She’s highly emotional, not conspirator material, and somewhat naive. She married and had children young, and feels she is only just coming into her own with the brewery job. Her daughter is proving to be a troubled teenager, and her son seems to be the most stable of the family.

As the series progresses, we learn more about each woman: Nancy’s marriage is a black hole of silence, and she seeks solace with the local priest; Cat has a criminal record, and possibly the most to lose. Her tough exterior conceals great fragility. She’s falling in love with another brewery worker, Tish (Abbie Hern), who becomes implicated in the secrecy, just as eventually Max puts his family first and destroys his career.

Louie, however, is Jack’s aunt and the mainstay of the brewery. Yet she went along with the plan, and this series convincingly shows the shock and grief of both the family and the community. The police call on her to formally identify Jack which she does with both composure and sorrow. Her brother Arwel (Eddie Marsan) returns from a trip abroad to find his son dead. Arwel breaks the news to his brewery employees with quiet grief and dignity; their response is one of shock and sympathy. We learn this is a family with a history of abuse, yet Marsan is wholly believable as he veers between getting justice for his beloved son and protecting him by destroying evidence. The police investigation stalls, but it’s clear that everything comes back to the brewery and its workers.

Arwel (Eddie Marsan). (Image Credit: BBC / Little Door (The Pact) / Warren Orchard)

A grieving Arwel (Eddie Marsan) seeks comfort from Max (Jason Hughes). (Image Credit: BBC / Little Door (The Pact) / Warren Orchard)

As a study of female friendship and camaraderie, The Pact takes us beyond the surface. These four women, who are fairly close, are now bound for life by their terrible secret. When the identity of the blackmailer is revealed, their relationship is shaken but their only choice is to stay close and keep their stories straight. We see them suffer from guilt and fear as the implications of their crime shatter any illusions they may hold about themselves or their loved ones.

So who did kill Jack? And was it just a bad piece of continuity or did the murderer––or someone else?––pull Jack’s pants up to preserve his dignity? The whole story comes out in the last episode, and it’s something of a surprise, although it holds together remarkably well.

Are you watching The Pact? What do you think?