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

The Fall

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

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

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

Murder on the Home Front

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

Life of Crime

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.