Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Frankenstein Chronicles

A similar concept to the current retake on 'Jekyll', this is a chase around after the jolly scientist who stitches body parts together and reanimates them, only shown later and, rather bafflingly, on ITV Encore.  More names than you can shake a stick at here, with Sean Bean playing decent, syphilitic river cop John Marlott, who senses that something other than macabre needlework is going on.  The course of his investigation leads him to body-dealing hospital porter Pritty (Charlie Creed-Miles), his big boss Peel (Tom Ward, here exchanging his pathologist's apron with Samuel West), patrician politicians (Elliot Cowan and Ed Stoppard) and even authors William Blake (Steven Berkoff) and Frankenstein's own creator Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell-Martin).  Oh and let's not forget the magnificent carcass of a pig that he throws into the Thames to test the tides.

This was quite fun and focused less on the gore and shocks of 'Jekyll' than the lacks and longings that would lead someone in early Industrial England to create a composite creature out of dead children.  Marlott has his own Big Sadness that he carries around with him and that we know will be exacerbated by both his mercury pills and his determination to find the truth behind the strange goings-on.  Bean is likeable in the lead role, almost a worn-down, less celebrated version of his Sharpe character grown older.  Why Encore, though, when an ITV audience would enjoy this in a 9pm slot?

The Last Panthers

In a tense opening scene, a well-executed diamond heist is underway.  Disregarding the alarm they know will be pressed, the gang pour pink paint over the manager with the combination to the safe (Pink Panthers!) and make it out in the allotted time.  Instead of the usual foot-to-the-floor getaway car, they pound the pavements, having hamstrung the police vehicles with a ring of fire.  Then things start to go a bit wrong, for the gang and for the drama.

It takes them an age to discard their conspicuous white boiler suits, leading one of them to accidentally shoot a child while aiming fire at police.  He then rather unbelievably escapes across a piece of open ground, when a few seconds earlier several policemen, presumably armed since they are in Marseilles, were in hot pursuit.  Though the gang evade capture, their buyer/fence doesn't want to be implicated in a murder and they are forced to try to sell the goods elsewhere.  This turns out to be somewhere in the vicinity of Belgrade, in a shanty town that even hardened criminals would probably eschew in favour of a prison cell.  That they make it out of here alive is thanks to Milan (Goran Bogdan) who has a panther tattooed on his chest, a man who used to be known as 'Animal' and who is about to find that criminal fraternity is a myth.

While this is going on, diamond heist specialist Naomi (Samantha Morton) and her insurance boss Tom who, as played by John Hurt, is surely well past retirement, arrive to check out the scene of the crime and trace the diamonds, quickly clashing with the irritated cops, led by Khalil (Tahar Rahim) who are themselves investigating.  Tom and Naomi soon follow the trail to Belgrade, which is the cue for her flashbacks to the Balkans conflict in what are very cliched and badly-done CGI clips of her in uniform.  By the end of the episode, she too has only narrowly escaped with her life.

We differed in opinion a bit on this one, with Dan liking it more than Ali, but then he is more of a fan of those violent 1970s French heist thrillers, and more recent ones like 'A Prophet'.  This owes something to them, and thankfully uses subtitles rather than English actors speaking in accents, but the tone is somewhat uneven, and whether there is action enough for all the episodes without spilling over into total implausibility, we shall have to wait and see.  Plus, it must be said, we have nothing against beards per se, but one hirsute man is rather too much like another to immediately identify our cops and robbers, so a shave or two wouldn't go amiss.

Monday, 9 November 2015

London Spy

Honestly, you wait years for Mr Whishaw to appear in a spy drama and two come along at once.  He's currently reprising his role as Q in cinema's latest Bond film, and here he is as a far less geeky Danny, a vulnerable young man in London working in an Amazon-style warehouse.  After a chance meeting, he falls in love with Alex, a mysterious and inhibited young man who says he works for an investment bank, but just as they begin to envisage a future together, Alex disappears.

Exquisite and painful.  The cast, including Jim Broadbent as Danny's friend Scottie, don't put a foot wrong.  It doesn't appear, from this episode, that the homosexuality is a theme at all; these are two young men in love, one of whom has an impossible secret.  It's left to Scottie, a Whitehall mandarin with secrets of his own, to suggest that the man the police are calling Alastair worked for MI6.  By this time, Danny has made a gruesome discovery of his own, that has similarities to the real-life case of the man found in a holdall.  As gripping for its heartfelt portrayal of love as for its murky depiction of espionage, we genuinely can't wait to see what Danny finds out.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


That's 'cuffs' as in the hand-locking variety rather than the ends of sleeves or a playful swipe to the side of the head.  A drama about either of the latter might seem to offer less possibilities, but at least they'd have lacked the cliches.  Think 'The Bill' or 'Holby Blue', 'Mersey Beat'... or any of a host of MoR cop shows.  In fact, it's probably easiest to sum up the episode with a sequence of cliches.

1: it's the rookie PC's first day
2: he's the son of the Chief Super (would they really be based at the same station?)
3: he's gay, and gets hit on by an unlikely woman and the male duty solicitor
4. he's paired with a tough, no-nonsense old-timer (Ashley Walters)
5. he makes a couple of serious mistakes but redeems himself by the end of the episode
6. his canteen lunch arrives just as they get a 'shout'
6. his dad has had a fling with a detective sergeant in the station (Amanda Abbington)
7. the aforementioned detective sergeant lives with a dog, to whom she's devoted, and eats microwave dinners
8. the mention of a racist released from prison is immediately followed by said racist attacking a victim
9. a stinger track fails to catch a getaway van but unexpectedly stops a man abducting his daughter
10. the rookie's mentor is proved wrong by the rookie when a vulnerable man hangs himself
11. no-one waits for backup, neatly explained by government cuts

Brighton hasn't featured in a good drama since Peter Mullan developed dementia and lost his criminal empire in 'The Fear', but there was little to enjoy in this beyond shots of the wheel, the piers, the marina, the Lanes and... the A27.  The writer Julie Gearey did superior work in 'Prisoners' Wives' and the main cast, other than newcomer Jacob Ifan as PC Jake Vickers, have all been far better elsewhere.  

Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde, ITV's new Sunday teatime drama, is lots of fun.  Written by Charlie Higson, most famous for The Fast Show, but also the writer of several gruesome thrillers for grown ups (King of the Ants), and kids (the Young Bond books), it's very pointedly not an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but a new spin-off, following the life of his grandson, Robert Jekyll.

It's almost like a Alan Moore graphic novel re-imagining of the story, set in the 1930s with Robert trying to find out about his past, and battling his urges to change from his normal, mild-mannered self to the demonic Hyde.  It also brings to mind 'The Incredible Hulk', with the first transformation coming about when he needs to lift a truck off a small child.  (Thankfully he doesn't inflate and his clothes stay on).  Higson has also thrown a bit of medicine in there, with Jekyll needing to keep taking his pills to keep the attacks at bay.  It's not really much of a spoiler to say that he loses the pills pretty early on.

It's very entertaining, with some great performances particularly from Tom Bateman as Jekyll, and Richard E Grant hamming it up as the baddie Sir Roger Bulstrode, head of a murky organisation investigating the paranormal in 1930s London (we said it was a bit Alan Moore).  It has been criticised for being too scary for the 6.30pm slot, and maybe it is - the bit where intruders enter Jekyll's parents' house was genuinely unsettling - but we remember being terrified by Doctor Who when we were, ahem, somewhat smaller, and he is currently on show pre-watershed on BBC1.

Some bits don't work.  The very brief explanation of Jekyll's ancestry: Stevenson's Hyde had an illegitimate son, who met Jekyll's adopted father in the First World War, having fathered a child himself, which he then abandoned) is a bit convoluted and doesn't explain why Jekyll is called Jekyll, but let's not think about that too much.  

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Last Kingdom

'Sharpe' author Bernard Cornwell penned a Saxon saga which is now billed as the BBC's answer to 'Game of Thrones'.  We're not GoT fans, but it's a misleading comparison.  This is the historical rather than the fantasy genre, though we're making no claims as to historical accuracy (remember those electric guitars accompanying Sean Bean to Waterloo?).

Anyway, the Danes, in their incarnation as Vikings in the 9th Century, invade a Saxon coastal fort in Northumbria and take young Uhtred captive, having slaughtered his father and brother.  Uhtred is brought up a Dane, but never forgets who he is, and won't relinquish his birthright to his scheming uncle Aelfric (Joseph Millson).

That's kind of it, minus a great deal of sword-waving, blood-letting and a rather disturbing scene of childhood sexual assault.  It's the usual tale of warrior honour - Christian and Pagan - with a dash of romance beloved of Cornwell readers and we've no doubt viewers will love it too.  Alexander Dreymon has the kind of pretty-boy looks that won Orlando Bloom a following, i.e. he doesn't look much like a Saxon or a Dane, but a few million will doubtless follow his trek to the titular last English kingdom of Wessex over the next seven episodes.

Thursday, 15 October 2015


Remember 'The Sixth Sense'?  "I see dead people."  If the boy had somehow grown up to be Stellan Skarsgard and become a UK detective, this would be his continuing story.  DI John River is accompanied by his recently deceased Sergeant 'Stevie' Stevenson (Nicola Walker, also pleasing the crowds in 'Unforgotten' over on ITV).  Stevie straightens him out, jollies him up and keeps him going.  Sadly for River, he also manages to accrue the ghost of the young man he suspected of Stevie's killing, whom he has chased to his death from a tower block balcony.  He wants his name cleared.  Then there's the subject of the book River is reading, one Thomas Neill Cream (Eddie Marsan), the Lambeth Poisoner, who hanged for his crimes in 1892 and imparts his macabre philosophy.

Given his array of dead head-friends, it's amazing he manages any work at all, but his boss, DCI Chrissie Read (Lesley Manville) states that his clear-up rate is 80%.  That could of-course be down to the fact that the victim drops by to give him a nudge, as in this week's case of a girl whose boyfriend is accused of her murder.

It's sad and it's funny.  There's a matter-of-factness about the talking dead for River, while his interactions with the living at work force you to remember that he's in danger of a breakdown.  In fact, talking dead aside, the main TWNH is that even solving 80% of cases wouldn't save him from an enforced period of rest when colleagues have witnessed him talking to and even punching people who don't exist.  Morgan's writing can be great, so we're hoping for something of substance.  There are comparisons to Scandi noir, but this is no 'Wallander' or 'The Killing', and none the worse for that.  We were reminded in his recall of his late colleague of the scenes of Craven and his murdered daughter in 'Edge of Darkness'.  If it maintains the edge, rather than skipping into vacuous light or tumbling wholesale into darkness, this could be among the best dramas this year.

Honorary mention for Adeel Akhtar as Rivers' new DS, Ira King.  He was so good as Wilson Wilson in 'Utopia', we were shocked to see him with two good eyes.