Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Secret

In 1991, Colin Howell (James Nesbitt) is a Coleraine dentist and family man whose main recreation is a bible study group, until he meets married mother Hazel Buchanan (Genevieve O'Reilly), a local teacher, at the church.  She then becomes his main hobby, because, err, God meant it to happen.  Of-course he did.  That old nonsense about not committing adultery, indeed.  The pair aren't particularly discreet, so it isn't long before their pastor (Jason Watkins) finds out and informs all parties.  Forgiveness follows, and all seems well, but as Howell's wife Lesley gives birth to their fourth child, the affair starts up again.  Knowing his wife is distraught, and Hazel's husband similarly upset, Colin hits on the plan to do them a favour and put them out of their misery, stage-managing a suicide pact, enabling him and Hazel to join their families together.

Too far-fetched for drama, it had to be real.  Howell was convicted in 2010 of double murder, and his former lover was also convicted.  They had long since split up and married other partners, who were both presumably ignorant of their spouses' bloody past.  It's all rather sordid and depressing.  Nesbitt is charismatic as the hypocritical happy-clappy man o'God, but the tale highlights the sorry state of a religion so out of sync with the times that a follower would rather commit murder than be seen to commit a lesser offence. 

Friday, 15 April 2016

Houdini and Doyle

Houdini and Doyle is, like last year's Frankenstein Chronicles, a British-made show for ITV Encore, set in a chocolate box-cum-theme park version of history.

Based (in the very loosest sense) on Harry Houdini's friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it's an odd-couple crime drama, similar in some respects to The Persuaders, where Tony Curtis and Roger Moore had to cooperate to solve crimes and right wrongs way back in the early 1970s.  In fact, they're probably re-booting it in similar pastiche style right now....

This time it's Michael Weston as Houdini, very rational, but also smart and knowing, and Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, reserved, British, very believing of supernatural things, but also with scientific ideas learnt through his medical background.  It's a good idea for a show - Houdini was a famous skeptic, and Doyle famously gullible - and they did know each other - but as a show it's 'bubblegum tosh' at best.

Some critics have compared it to Jonathan Creek - for the similar magic background - but it's just not as good as that was in its heyday, or many other things on the TV at the moment.  It just feels like it's not good enough, and while it has a few quirky touches - a rather anachronistic WPC to help them out for example - it feels too much like it's ticking boxes, capitalising on costume drama, and in particular 'Sherlock', and not enough like a creative and original piece of work.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016


The success of 'War and Peace' and 'The Night Manager' on BBC1's 9pm Sunday slot has left big shoes to fill.  'Undercover' treads confidently, if a little predictably, in its opener.  A juggernaut narrowly misses crushing Maya (Sophie Okonedo) within the first few minutes (she was fumbling for her phone on a desert highway, as you do).  She's a lawyer, fighting for client Rudy (Dennis Haysbert)  facing execution on Death Row.  We don't quite know what he's done, but Maya likes him and he's played by the cuddly President in '24', so we feel he has to have been unjustly sentenced.  Maya lives in London and is happily married to Nick (Adrian Lester) with three teenaged children, one of whom is autistic, but Nicky has a secret that threatens to expose the basis of their relationship as a lie....

Good so far.  Just enough hints and flashbacks to keep us guessing what happened, why and to whom in 1996.  This clearly takes its cue from the recent, controversial court cases involving long-term undercover cops who engaged in relationships with those they were investigating, even in some cases having children from those relationships, in addition to ongoing relationships under their own names.  We hope it holds its nerve and becomes an outstanding drama, since it is tackling such major themes as justice, prejudice, public and personal trust and betrayal in the modern democratic state.

The Durrells

Seemingly as long as there is British Television there will be new adaptations of Gerald Durrell's Corfu novels, particularly 'My Family and Other Animals'.  Five minutes (OK, a few years) after the last one, along comes another on ITV, with charmingly illustrated credits and a new generation of child actors .  Keeley Hawes plays put-upon Mrs. D, who decides to end her dreary suburban penury in favour of eking out an existence with her four unruly children in sunny Corfu.  Thanks to the book and all the previous versions, we mostly know what happens next, but there's no reason newcomers to the tale shouldn't enjoy this adaptation.  That is, unless they are pedants and wonder what on earth young Margo (Daisy Waterstone) is doing sunbathing in a bikini in 1935.


Rowan Atkinson assumes the mantel of Simenon's pipe-smoking French detective in ITV's new adaptation - the first of two - shown on Easter Monday.  Atkinson wisely underplays the Inspector, but we found it hard to put Mr Bean and various Edmund Blackadders thoroughly behind us.  All credit to him for those lasting creations, but it hindered our immersion in the lively, rather seedy Montmartre of the 1950s.

This story concerned that modern crime drama staple, the serial killer, and naturally the victims are women who happen to be out alone late at night.  Maigret's team are stricken at their inability to catch the culprit, and threatened with being taken off the case, until the great man comes up with a daring ruse to smoke out the killer.  Will it work, or go horribly wrong...?

An oddity, is all we can say.  Ponderously slow except for a chase which feels like it was crowbarred into the midst of proceedings to liven things up.  Most of it looked expensive, but the chase appeared to have been filmed on a camcorder.  Maybe it's the nature of its dated source material, but the dialogue was as stilted as if it had been lifted directly from the French, and the interior scenes had the staged feel of a forgotten drawing-room play. A waste of a very good cast and some lovely couture.


Marcella (with a hard 'ch' rather than a soft 's' sound), is a murder squad detective who has taken a long career break to raise her children, but now finds herself abandoned by her husband and compelled back to work on her old unsolved case of - what else - a serial killer.  Anna Friel has a serious line in angsty, gutsy ladies and she gives it her all here.  Every modern detective needs a quirk, it seems, and Marcella's is that she loses her temper and blacks out.  Not a great trait for a cop, we think, but then the team behind this were responsible for 'The Bridge.  The autism spectrum was used to great effect in the character of Saga, and in today's supposedly touchy-feely police force, that's an equally unlikely asset for a detective. 

It's nasty and not particularly new, but may shape up, and if Ms Friel's particular brand of angsty, gutsy character makes you reach for the remote, there is a more than decent supporting cast to distract you.