A Screenplay by Steve Pemberton

Alternative titles: A Question of Time or A Matter of Time. These might give away less of the plot.

Copyright Notice

© 2000 Steve Pemberton. You may make verbatim copies of this screenplay in any medium, without obligation to me. You may not sell it, or include it with anything that is being sold, although you may charge a reasonable fee to cover any costs you incur in copying and distribution. You may not create derivative works from it. Primarily, this means that you may not create motion pictures that are based on it. If you put a copy somewhere that is accessible to a large number of people, I would appreciate it if you mention that the original is available at my website,

Please contact me if you want to do something that is not permitted by this copyright notice, and we'll see if we can come to an agreement.


Gerry Anthony Lowther

A smalltime burglar, shoplifter and pickpocket.

Agent Allen

A government investigator.


Shop Cashier

Shop Manager

Customer(s) in shop


[Agent Allen's boss.]

Scene 1

A small room with a table and two chairs. [Bed?] Lowther is slumped at the table, his head resting on his forearms. [What is he wearing?] Offscreen, there is the sound of the room's door opening. Allen and the policeman talk softly in this conversation.
Allen(offscreen) OK, wheel it in.
Policeman(offscreen) Yes, Sir.
There is the sound of two men entering the room, one of them pushing something small and heavy on a trolley. (That probably won't be clear from the sound, but the viewer will see it shortly.) Then the sound of two electrical plugs being pushed into their sockets. One of the men walks back to the door.
Policeman(offscreen) Will you be needing me any further, sir?
Allen(offscreen) No, thank you. I'll call when I'm finished.
We hear the sound of the policeman closing and locking the door and (briefly) his footsteps in the corridor outside. At this point, we see Allen for the first time. [Description of him.] He is carrying a briefcase. The thing on the trolley proves to be a TV and video recorder.
Allen(talking more loudly than before) OK, Lowther, you can stop pretending to be asleep now.
Lowther looks up, wide awake, and gives Allen a dirty look.
LowtherWho are you, then?
AllenYou can call me Agent Allen.
Lowther(noticing the TV and video) You gonna show me a movie?
AllenLater, maybe. (He sits down, putting his case next to the chair. Lowther turns to look at him as he does so) You know why you're here, don't you?
[Something about recording the interview. Allen keeps both copies? Or does something to the tape recorder so that it won't record?]
LowtherYeah. Suspicion of theft, namely stealing about a hundred pounds in cash from the till of [name of shop] on Saturday afternoon.
AllenDid you do it?
Lowther(confidently) No. (slight pause) I was in the King Billy down the road all day. At least, I was until two coppers marched in and read me my rights. They didn't have any evidence or anything - just "reasonable suspicion." OK, they know I've done jobs like this in the past. I don't deny that. But I didn't do this one. There's at least three people will vouch that I was in the pub.
AllenThe police found the money on you.
LowtherYeah right. Like that hundred quid was totally unlike every other hundred quid there's ever been.
AllenDoes the term "no visible means of support" ring any bells, Lowther? You don't have a job, and your Jobseeker's Allowance was stopped six weeks ago.
Lowther(mutters) Bastards.
AllenYou might've won a bet, I suppose, or got lucky on the Lottery. But you didn't say that at the time. In fact, you didn't say anything at all about how you came by the money. (Pause) You probably know already that that will never stand up in court.
Lowther nods, a slight smug smile on his face.
AllenThe police also found the shop's copy of a credit card receipt in your pocket.
LowtherI found it in the street.
AllenIf it was the customer's copy, yes; he might've dropped it. But the shop's copy wouldn't have been anywhere except in the till. The time on it was thirteen oh six, less than an hour before the cashier noticed the money was missing. You must've picked it up after that, yet you say you were in the pub all day.
[Mention the possibility that the cashier was an accomplice?]
LowtherI mean when they noticed the money was gone. Three people saw me.
AllenThe police interviewed them, of course. John Donahue said he saw you come in at about thirteen fifty - almost the same time as the cashier raised the alarm, in fact. Mike Clarke and Toby Abrams said they only noticed you when the police found you.
LowtherYou saying I robbed the till at thirteen fifty and then ran down to the pub to try to give myself an alibi?
Allen(noncommittal) You could've done.
LowtherWell I'd've had to run to get there that fast. It's a good three hundred yards, and I'm no Linford Christie. But you made a point of asking Donahue if I looked like I'd been running, and he said I didn't.
AllenYou must've been in the shop to get the receipt.
Lowther(becoming exasperated) But like I keep telling you, I wasn't in the shop. You can't prove it. No-one saw me.
AllenNo person saw you, it's true.
Allen reaches down to pick up his case.
LowtherWhat d'you mean - no person saw me?
Allen opens the case and takes out a video tape.
Allen(waving it at Lowther) This did.
Lowther(uneasily) Why didn't anyone mention this before?
AllenI think that'll be apparent when you've seen it.
Allen switches the TV and video recorder on and puts the tape in. He picks up the remote control for the video, presses play and sits down again. Lowther uneasily turns his chair to face the TV. The tape shows black-and-white footage, grainy and slightly blurred, from a security camera in the shop. If possible, I want the quality of the picture to convey that the tape has been recorded over many times. There is no sound. The till and some of the displays are visible. There is a cashier behind the till, and one or two customers looking around the shop. There is a date and time in the bottom right corner of the picture: 22 April 2000, 13:47.
AllenThis is from the spy camera in [shop name]. You'll notice that the time on the picture is a few minutes before your earliest alibi.
On the tape, Lowther comes into view. He sees the till and the other customers. He doesn't look at any of the goods. He positions himself where the cashier can't see him, but is still in view of the camera. (Ideally, he should be partly obscured behind something, but his face should still be visible.) One of the customers picks up something from a display and moves towards the till to pay. The other customer is looking closely at another display. Once Lowther is satisfied that no-one is looking in his direction, he moves his right hand to his left wrist (to touch his watch, but that shouldn't be too clear in the picture). As soon as he does this, he vanishes (split screen).
Meanwhile, the cashier has rung up the sale on the till and the customer has handed over his money. The till drawer opens. Before the cashier puts the money into the till and takes the change out, most of the money in the till vanishes (split screen). This should take two or three frames. The cashier looks down to put the customer's money into the till and realises that the money in it has gone. He or she looks shocked, and then turns and calls offscreen. The shop manager walks into frame. The cashier explains what has happened. The manager looks angry, probably thinking that the cashier has left the till unattended or has simply stolen the money. The manager looks under the counter and in drawers, and then motions the cashier to turn out his or her pockets. The cashier does this, reluctantly.
Allen pauses the video recorder.
AllenThere's a lot more after that, but I think you get the picture.
Lowther(incredulous) You're winding me up, aren't you? You'll be laughed out of court. No - you're never even going to get to court. If you want to tamper with evidence, you've got to be a lot less obvious than that.
Allen takes no notice of this last remark. He rewinds the tape to the point where Lowther appears and pauses it.
AllenDefinitely you, isn't it? The fact that you were seen nearby shortly afterwards - by three people, as you say - would certainly incline a jury towards the belief that you were the culprit.
LowtherWell maybe it is me, but I was never there. Someone's got hold of some film of me - or someone who looks like me - and they've put it on top of the film from the shop.
Allen(looks inquiringly at Lowther) And why would anyone do that?
LowtherI reckon someone's trying to stitch me up. Either someone's got it in for me, or the cops want to nail someone - anyone - for this job, and they picked the first mug they could find.
AllenWell that would explain how the receipt came to be in your pocket. But it's odd that you said nothing about being framed before you saw this tape.
LowtherI'm telling you, it's a fake.
Allen(shrugging a little) Well, yes, video pictures can be faked. But you're wearing the same clothes as when the police arrested you. Do you think our hypothetical forger would have known what you'd be wearing on Saturday?
LowtherYeah, well that film of me could've been taken on Friday, for all I know. And a bloke with (sneering) "no visible means of support" ain't exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to overcoats.
Allen(shrugging) Perhaps. But look closely at the image of yourself. Does it look flat or cut-out? Do you see any lines around it? Are there any differences in the lighting and shadows between you and the background? No. A fake can look that good, it's true. But it takes a lot of time and effort. The police took the tape from the camera at fourteen thirty, and they've had it under lock and key ever since.
LowtherThat only proves no-one else tampered with it.
AllenI for one trust the police in this matter. But they had an independent expert examine the tape and all the shop's equipment. He took a long time over it. I was waiting for his report before I came to see you. He said he was sure beyond reasonable doubt that this tape is the original. Together with the receipt, and the fact that Donahue saw you enter the pub just after the crime, I'd say it makes a watertight case against you.
LowtherI still say someone's trying to frame me.
AllenI wasn't aware that you could arouse such strong emotions. If this is a stitch-up, someone's got to a lot of trouble for the sake of a hundred pounds, a credit card receipt and - let's be honest - a petty crook.
Lowther looks pained at that remark and looks down momentarily.
AllenIf someone hates you that much, I think a baseball bat and a dark alley would be a much more cost-effective way of dealing with the problem.
LowtherWere you even watching that tape? Someone's stuck a picture of me on top of the picture from the spy camera. Only they didn't have anything that looked like me robbing the till - so they just made me disappear!
Allen(feigning innocent surprise) Really?
He turns to the TV and plays the tape. At the point where Lowther disappears:
Allen(as before) Well, well, well. (turning back to Lowther) I have to admit that'll never stand up in court.
LowtherSo you agree it's fake, then?
AllenOh, no. I just said it won't stand up in court. Not the same thing at all. The jury will have to choose whether to believe an expert who tells them the tape hasn't been doctored, or their own common sense. And every one of them will choose their common sense.
LowtherExactly. Everyone knows people don't vanish like that, before your eyes. It's impossible.
AllenEveryone except maybe you and me. I know because I've seen more than my share of impossible things And you know because you've done it.
LowtherOh come on. Not even Houdini could pull a stunt like that.
AllenTrue. But you did.
He winds the tape back to just before Lowther vanishes and plays it in slow motion (jog-shuttle). When Lowther vanishes, Allen pauses the tape and jogs it back to a couple of frames before that, where Lowther is touching his watch.
Allen(looking half at Lowther and half at the TV) Were you touching your watch at that point?
Lowther(shifting uncomfortably in his chair) I might've been.
Allen(turning to Lowther) Answer the question.
LowtherLook, I keep telling you, I don't know where or when that film was taken. I might've been touching my watch, I might've been scratching an itch. I don't know what I was doing.
AllenLet me see your watch.
Reluctantly, Lowther unfastens his watch. He does this clumsily, as if he is uncertain of how it fastens. He passes it to Allen. [Description of it.] Allen examines it, turning it over a couple of times. Close-ups.
Allen(looking back at Lowther) How long have you had this?
Lowther(shrugging) About six years. My dad gave it to me. It's a... kind of family heirloom.
Allen looks at the watch again, and then passes it back to Lowther, who puts it on, looking relieved. Again, he fastens it clumsily. While Lowther is busy with this (that is, not looking at Allen), Allen looks down at his own watch. He then stands to leave.
LowtherIs that it?
AllenFor now. I expect I'll be back.
He stops the tape recorder and takes the tapes out of it. He hands one of them to Lowther and pockets the other. He walks over to the door and knocks on it.
Allen(calls) Officer!
The door unlocks and opens. Allen steps out. The policeman is outside. They begin to walk away from the room.
Policeman Did you get much out of him, sir?
AllenNo more than I expected. But you were certainly right to call us in. (pause) The three men he named as alibis - are they friends of his?
Policeman It's stretching the word a little in his case, sir, but yes.
AllenCan you bring them in for questioning again?
Policeman Yes sir. What do want us to ask them?
AllenTwo things. You remember the watch he was wearing when you arrested him?
Policeman [Brief description] Yes sir.
AllenHe said his father gave it to him six years ago. Ask them if that's true.
Policeman (puzzled) Yes Sir.
AllenAnd ask them if he's often late for appointments.

Scene 2

Allen is alone in a hotel room. He is talking with his boss on a mobile phone. Throughout this conversation he is fretful and defensive, constantly standing, sitting and pacing around. Somewhere in this scene, there should be a hotel phone in the background. The fact that he's not using this suggests that he's worried about the line being tapped. (Either that or the department refuses to pay the exorbitant rates that hotels charge - but hey, let's not drag my prejudices into this.)
AllenSir, I'm convinced we have a genuine case here. The video evidence is irrefutable.
BossVideo can be forged, Allen, especially from security cameras.
AllenYes sir, but I don't believe there was enough time to fake this. And besides, I don't see what possible motive anyone could have for it in this case.
BossWere there any witnesses? Did anyone actually see him vanish?
AllenNo sir. Not even someone like Lowther would be stupid enough to vanish if he thought anyone was looking at him.
BossWhat about the money disappearing from the till, then? Did anyone see that?
AllenNo sir. It had already gone when the cashier looked down to give the customer [his or her] change.
BossWell then, the obvious explanation would be that the cashier stole the money and passed it on to Lowther. [Receipt? Maybe the cashier wanted to make sure that the police could link Lowther with the crime if they arrested him.]
AllenIn the absence of other evidence, sir, yes. But we can't ignore that video tape.
BossWhat about the device, then? Have you found that?
AllenYes sir. I believe it's Lowther's watch.
BossHmph. A little unoriginal, I must say. What makes you think so?
AllenThe video tape shows him touching it just before he vanishes. I examined it, and it looks similar to other watches that we've found to contain devices. Lowther claims that his father gave it to him six years ago. I asked the police to check that with his three alibis. One of them said no, he acquired it within the last month. The other two weren't sure, but mentioned that Lowther and his father haven't spoken for years.
BossHe might've just stolen a perfectly ordinary gent's watch. Did that occur to you? That he's trying to avoid being charged with that theft as well?
AllenI agree that's the most likely explanation, sir. But we found nothing else that might have concealed the device. (slight pause) Another thing, Sir - we asked his alibis if he was often late for appointments. They said no. He's almost always on time.
Boss(perplexed) And what's that got to do with anything?
AllenSir, the initial police report noted that Lowther's watch was nineteen minutes slow. When I examined it - twenty-two hours later - it was also nineteen minutes slow.
BossAnd why is that significant?
AllenIf his watch was slow because it doesn't keep good time, it's highly unlikely that it would be slow by the same amount on two different days. He hasn't seen any other clocks since being arrested, so he couldn't even have put his watch right. Whatever he uses that watch for, it's not for telling him what time of day it is.
BossI see. (slight pause) And where is the watch now?
Allen(awkwardly) Sir, I let him keep it.
Boss(incredulous and angry) You did what?
Allen(hasty) Sir, we've got to find out who's supplying these devices. All we're doing at the moment is catching the users - and only the stupid or overconfident ones.
BossDid it not occur to you to ask him where he got it - especially since you were sure that he was lying about getting it from his father?
AllenWe've tried that with others, sir. Something seems to be stopping them from talking about it. They can talk about anything else - at great length, in some cases - but on that one subject? Nothing.
Boss(still rather angry) So why did you let him keep the watch?
AllenI'm hoping that even if he can't tell us where he got it, he might still be able to lead us there.
BossMore likely he'll use it to vanish from under the police's noses.
Allen(cautious) Yes sir. That's exactly what I'm hoping will happen. Which is why I'd like permission to use a captured device for the next forty-eight hours.
Boss(well aware that Allen does know) Do you have any idea how much red tape I have to go through to get approval for that?
AllenThank you sir. I knew I could count on you.
BossI'm telling you though, Allen, you're taking one hell of a risk. It's going to look very bad for us both if he gets away. Twenty-four hours, no more.
Boss(interrupting) When our little canary realises what a mess he's in, he'll fly. Sooner rather than later, if he hasn't gone already.

Scene 3

Lowther's cell. Lowther is pacing up and down, nervously. He stops and looks at his watch. (Close-up on it.) It shows 10:30. He pulls the stud out and winds it back 20 minutes, but does not press the stud in. He walks around a little more, and then stops again and winds his watch back another 10 minutes. He still does not press the stud in.

There is the sound of footsteps from outside the door. Lowther tenses and looks towards the source of this sound. He moves to stand behind the door. (If the door is in a corner, he moves to wherever the person opening the door will see him as late as possible.) He raises his left hand and puts his right hand over the watch. There is the sound of keys in the lock, and the door begins to open. Cut to -

Scene 4

Allen standing still, waiting for something to happen. He is mostly in shadow. Although it probably won't be apparent from the shots and angles, he has positioned himself so that Lowther won't see him when he comes out of the cell. He is listening intently to the following.
Policeman (as scene 1, offscreen, surprised) Bloody hell!
Offscreen, we hear the policeman locking the door and then running along the corridor, away from the camera.
Policeman (calling as he runs) Sarge! Lowther's escaped!
Allen smiles grimly to himself. He raises his left hand and pulls back his sleeve to reveal that he is wearing a watch of similar design to Lowther's. In close-up, he winds it back an hour and presses the stud back in. Don't show him vanishing, because this shot is his POV.

Scene 5

Lowther walking through the city. He appears nervous and keeps looking behind him. After the first few times when he sees that there is no-one behind him, he becomes more confident and looks backs less frequently. Once or twice he looks at his watch and nods approvingly, reassured that he still has plenty of slowtime left.

Everything around Lowther is motionless. [Actually, it's all just moving very slowly relative to him, but this is difficult to do properly on video. Use split screen or blue screen, as appropriate. Maybe even people standing still! Split screen will be easiest.]

[I haven't decided whether it's day or night outside. Day would make it clearer that everything else has stopped moving, but night would be more sinister and moody. It would be nice to have him play a prank or two. Perhaps he sees two people close to each other doing the same thing - say, talking on mobile phones or reading books - and swaps their possessions over.]

Intercut the shots of Lowther with shots of Allen following him. Possibly Allen has some sort of tracking device, showing bearing and distance (both graphically and numerically). A Palm Pilot might be nice, if I can figure out how to program it (!). Failing that, a Psion would do the job. Maybe hold it on its side, so the screen's on one side and the keyboard's on the other. This might hide the fact that it's an everyday device. Or we could shoot just the screen. Anyway...

Initially Allen is moving quite quickly, as Lowther has a long lead. As he gets closer to Lowther, he moves more slowly. He doesn't want to catch Lowther until he finds out where he's going. During this sequence, Allen doesn't actually see Lowther.

The cutting gets more rapid as Allen closes in on Lowther. Allen gets to within about 50 metres, and then Lowther's trace abruptly disappears from the tracking device. Allen looks puzzled and worried for a moment, and then recognition dawns: Lowther has dropped out of slowtime. (The time that he dialled on his watch has finished.)

[after that... Any suggestions for an ending gratefully received. Allen still has some slowtime left on his watch. He sneaks up on Lowther and gives him a nasty shock? They've found Mr Big? Mr Big's minions are going to shoot them. Allen goes back into slowtime as they fire. Knocks Lowther to the ground.

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Last update: 25/7/2020 17:09