Tuesday, 14 May 2013
"Call the District Nurse" obviously doesn't have the urgency that "Midwife" conveys. Older viewers may remember Nerys Hughes cycling around villages in her nurse's uniform and mothering her patients. This has Eve Myles as a slightly mad modern version. No bicycle for her: she screams along to banging tunes in her smart car, has a healthy relationship with a live-in boyfriend and dances around her house whenever she gets the opportunity. At work, she maintains a good relationship with bitchy and cynical colleagues and does her very best for her clients. This week saw her trying and failing to keep an elderly dementia patient at home with his long-suffering daughter, and supporting a pregnant mother with a sick child and a husband fighting abroad.
Likeable so far, in cast and script, with a good balance of light humour and the serious everyday, and a very good lead performance indeed by Ms Myles. It's a shame her character, the titular Frankie Maddox, is rather too dedicated to be believable.
Monday, 13 May 2013
Let's forget that Gillian Anderson is an impossibly glamorous Met detective and Jamie Dornan was a pretty-boy model. Let's imagine that they look like your average Met detective and serial killer, say. Disbelief suspended? Good, ok, now we can get to the drama.
Detective Super (Super Detective?) Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is drafted into Belfast from the Met to review the investigation of a murder which has gone nowhere. She quickly finds a link to another murder (professional women, strangled in their homes, posed, long dark hair) and we know she's not wrong. Married marriage counsellor and father of two Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) has an unhealthy obsession with smart professional brunettes and their underwear drawers.
This is nasty, nasty stuff. There is no onscreen violence until the last moments, but the whole hour drips with menace and the threat of pain. It also avoids easy distinctions - the teenaged babysitter comes onto the father of her charges, not realising of-course that she embodies his fetishistic fantasies, and Stella spots a cute colleague and casually tells him her hotel room number in front of witnesses. There could be a PhD thesis on the anti-marriage themes running through this, and while we want to see if and how the chase is concluded, and what is uncovered in the process, it's liable to cause nightmares for every one of its five weeks. Real crime is probably this cold, with flawed cops chasing disturbed criminals, but whether it is or should be stomached in the form of drama remains to be seen.
P.S. Ali must even remonstrate with her heroine Alison Graham over this. 'She Who Can Do No Wrong' said in this week's Radio Times (sceptics take note: the same issue in which Eddie Izzard said he would run for London Mayor) that 'The Fall' was nasty, and it is. She then went on to say that this was intelligent adult drama because the victims were given an onscreen life, rather than being an anonymous corpse. She cites CSI as an offender in this respect. But... often there is a backstory in CSI, albeit in a brief pre-credit scene or in flashback, and in 'The Fall'? We don't even see the woman whose murder brings Stella to Belfast, and there are a mere couple of scenes with the next victim.
A few weeks ago, SWCDNW penned a moving tribute to a school friend who had been a victim of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. In it she decried cheap drama-documentaries that sensationalised violent crime for the titillation of a voyeuristic audience. Hear hear. Programmes like 'Five Daughters' are the ones that break the mould, that humanize the horror, without diluting the devastating consequences for those close to the victim. 'The Fall' may prove to feature the latest victim's sister etc. in subsequent episodes, but the focus is clearly on the cat-and-mouse game between the cop and the killer. The investigation is bound to throw up the usual serial-killer cliches, which are more the hallmarks of Hollywood nasties or formulaic dramas than anything intelligent and truthful.
Sunday, 12 May 2013
Before saying anything about this as a stand-alone work of fiction, a word about artistic bankruptcy. Paddy Considine and Olivia Colman are probably capable of convincing an audience of absolutely anything and actors, like the rest of us, have to pay the bills, but... this has been commissioned on the success of the TV adaptation of Kate Summerscale's non-fiction book. A real, and horrible crime of child murder in 1860 was explored in the 2008/9 book which had stellar sales after Richard & Judy recommended it to a television audience. Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that it was made into a drama which - in our humble opinions - managed to blunt the force and erase the subtlety of the case, as represented in Summerscale's book.
So now, Whicher is back as a sort of private gumshoe in Victorian England, handling an entirely fictional case. The real Whicher retired into obscurity, but hey, who cares about facts? Any researcher into 19th Century crime will know that there were enough real horrors to obviate the need for fiction, but we continue to be bludgeoned by clumsy plots and fictional characters assuming the identities of people who had lives and have descendants. It's all about the brand, and Brand Whicher has outstripped reality, as well as the author who brought it to prominence (Summerscale's subsequent book "Mrs Robinson's Disgrace" was a very modest success by comparison).
This is more 'Whicher Street' than anything rooted in the real history of the Metropolitan Detective. Whicher here is given an honourable grief (like Ripper's Inspecter Reid, the loss of a child) to account for his obsessive behaviour and is also given the usual hero-in-adversity situation courtesy of his no longer being an officer of the law. There's even some bromance with his old friend DCI Dolly Williamson (William Beck) and supposed new friend Inspector George Lock (Shaun Dingwall). This could have been a chance for original costume drama to be a cut above the soapy 'Downton Abbey' but sadly it's let down by a plodding (pardon the pun) script. There are several "But that's not how it happened!" and "I didn't kill her!" exclamations; Whicher enters an asylum via a Trojan coach and there's an obvious suspect due to hang but whom Whicher, of-course, suspects is innocent.
We'd worked out whodunnit by 9.10pm and we're sure a good portion of the audience got there before us. Despite his Suspicions, it took Whicher a tad longer. Clearly the costume department have read the letters of Lady Lytton, who insisted that the more hirsute a man in the facial department, the more he had to hide.
Saturday, 11 May 2013
Molly Lefebure spent part of her war taking secretarial notes for a pathologist and later wrote up her experiences as memoirs. 'Murder on the Home Front' is based on those memoirs, but presumably very loosely if the first episode is anything to go by. Perhaps we get the media we deserve, and the writers and producers are right to assume that no audience is going to wait for anything so boring as a set-up. Molly meets her pathologist and begins working for him with a ridiculously short and casual introduction, and is joined by a female photographer. Why feminism sprang up mightily in the 60s with all this emancipation is anybody's guess. The cops allow Lennox (Patrick Kennedy) to accompany them everywhere and investigate for them, using forensic methods that wouldn't become commonplace until forty years later. It's sort of like a cross between 'Silent Witness' and 'Foyle's War' and the plot, involving a serial killer of 'good-time girls' is as riddled with holes as your average block of Emmental.
Halfway through, we have four suspects, one of whom is now dead and another arrested. The body count for the hour was four, which knocks even the bloodiest episode of 'Midsomer Murders' into a cocked hat. There's a war on, but here that's just a convenient cover for corpses. With a script veering between the perfunctory and the comedic, this has a very uneven tone, and deals rather nastily with its mostly female bodies. It bears the embarrassing hallmarks of last year's 'Bletchley Circle', so let's hope they find a more convincing denouement, or Lefebure's War will be a very short one indeed.
Friday, 10 May 2013
It's 1985 and in case you don't know it, rookie cop Denise Woods (Hayley Atwell) is bopping along to the likes of Culture Club. You could be forgiven for thinking we'd gone further back in time to the original 'Life on Mars' era of the 1970s with all the references to a Doris and a tea-maker. Entertaining and with a good cast, the plot was nonetheless as unbelievable as the curly wigs. This uses the 1985 riot in Brixton (yes, there was one) to give Denise a chance to plant evidence on someone she's convinced has murdered a young girl. Her pass is still checked on the gate, and the station is guarded against the rioters well enough to banish thoughts of 'Terminator' or 'Pelham 123', yet no-one is guarding the evidence store, allowing plucky, suspended Denise to frame the man she believes responsible for a crime and reviving her own career.
Do cops plant evidence, for reasons good or bad? Probably. But we doubt it's that easy.
Saturday, 27 April 2013
Remember Trevor Eve and Juliet Stevenson battling it out over his wandering eye for Minnie Driver? We'll let you off if not, since it was a long time ago and was only watchable for the titular wife's steely, heartbroken revenge on the man she'd trusted.
Late in the day, Paula Milne has penned a sort of companion piece to the original, although it starts with the better premise of political skullduggery rather than an old-fashioned sex scandal. Whereas the original had an immediately sympathetic character, however, we are introduced to 'political golden couple' Aidan Hoynes and Freya Gardner (David Tennant and Emily Watson) in the middle of their attempted takeover of power. It proves unsuccessful, largely thanks to the betrayal of best friend Bruce (Brutus?) Babbish (Ed Stoppard).
The drama opens with a pretentious Latin quote about the corruption of the best being the worst, so presumably we are meant to feel that Aidan is a tragically undermined would-be hero, but regardless of your stance on immigration, there is little evidence to back this up. He sits bored and listless while his constituents relate their problems and is happy to deny to the public that his resignation is anything more than an act of principle. The Macbeths had at least a prediction of certain success to excuse them - political murder being almost as bad as the physical for ambition-driven ministers - but what appears as the bud of an excuse in Macbeth - a lost child - is full-blown here. Aidan's patient dad (Jack Shepherd) spells it out for us, and directly to his son, that he threw himself into the "cesspit" of Westminster because his son was diagnosed with Asperger's. Oh and there's the crack in his bedroom ceiling he spends his nights staring at, so we can only assume he hasn't claimed for extravagant redecoration on expenses....
We are meant to believe that Freya is the pawn of both her husband, to whom she has always taken a back seat, and Bruce, who persuades the PM to appoint her to the DWP as a final snub to his defeated rival. Freya, however, is already getting a taste for No.10, where she seems strangely to be completely unfamiliar with her surroundings, and she too publicly betrays her husband in a highly unlikely interview by that well-known political bloodhound, Kirsty Wark. Jeremy Paxman must have had a prior engagement, and by allowing herself to be pinioned on a subject relevant to her personal life, rather than her job, Freya shows herself no able politician.
Clearly this is headed in the multiple-betrayal, "we ruined our family" direction, but do we care? This portrays the so-called corridors of power as riven with individuals who wouldn't know the Seven Principles of Public Life if they came and threw 2009 Chateau Neuf du Pape all over them. Uncannily accurate yes, but crucially unengaging of our sympathies.
Saturday, 20 April 2013
We know that there are people out there who could happily spend their lives on an Ikea sofa reading Mankell and other Scandi books when not watching Scandi noir on TV. We are not those people. You can have too much of a good thing, right? So when this came along for the BBC4 Saturday Night Audience and we were told it was about a serial killer of financiers, we wondered if the whole series might not be just a Scandi Ingmar Bergman-style debate on the ethics of leaving the killer at large.
But no. It's a crime drama along the lines of other Scandi crime dramas. Need we say more? Well produced with a smattering of dark humour and some scenes of spattery blood. Oh and a female boss, but lately we in the UK have been having those frequently too. Pick up those swedish meatballs, some Danish lager and enjoy.