Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Broadchurch snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but Line of Duty, Prime Suspect, Decline & Fall and Car Share hit the spot

Julie Hesmondhalgh
I almost gave the third series of ITV's Dorset-set Broadchurch a miss because the second series was an absolute dud, featuring the least convincing courtroom scenes in the history of television, ridiculous procedural mistakes, and poor old Charlotte Rampling utterly unconvincing as a spectacularly inept prosecutor. Oh dear, it was awful. But the first two episodes of Series 3 were really rather good, with Olivia Colman and David Tennant back on form, and Julie Hesmondhalgh giving a really outstanding performance as rape victim, Trish Winterman. Again, there was absolutely no sense of place, the police didn't behave like police officers, and the supposed police station was as unconvincing as that eerily uninhabited forensics lab in Silent Witness. But the plot was moving along nicely, and there was a sense of energy about the enterprise. Then the cracks started appearing...

...especially on the acting side.

Lenny Henry as the owner of a garden centre/cafe) and Charlie Higson as the estranged husband of the rape victim were utterly unconvincing. Higson's style is too light for this sort of fare, and - let's just clear this up once and for all - Lenny Henry can't act. The professional actors simply blew both of them away. I did not, for one instant, believe either of them were the characters they were portraying, or that Sir Lenworth had a history of violence or that he was lusting after the rape victim's best friend - and the only convincing thing about Higson's performance was that he and his wife were estranged: from his performance, you'd have thought the two of them had never met, let alone lived as man and wife. Because neither of them were real, one immediately discounted them as suspects.

But the rest of the cast kept it all bowling along nicely. However, we then had to suffer through an interminable sub-plot which saw the father of the boy who was killed in the first series tracking down his son's (inadvertent) killer, failing to carry out his intention to murder the blighter with a Stanley knife, bursting into tears, and then trying to commit suicide by slipping over the side of a dinghy into the sea. "Well, thank God he's gone," I thought - only for the dreary bugger to turn up alive in the next episode, after which he spent an inordinate amount of time drooping around with his wife and daughter, watching videos of his dead son. This got so boring, I was almost looking forward to Lenny Henry reappearing. (And it was a real shame, because Jodie Whittaker yet again rose above the material to give a terrific performance as Mr. Dreary's wife.)

But it still somehow managed to retain one's interest - even though I thought I might burst into tears if yet another piece of sodding blue twine turned up. Then came the final episode - which was a catastrophe. First, I couldn't, by that stage,  have cared less who the multiple rapist was. The only genuinely interesting suspect, played in a quietly menacing fashion by Mark Bazeley, rather disappeared towards the end. If the drama was on its last legs by the time Colman and Tennant finally arrested the rapist(s), it shook off this mortal coil during the formal police interview with the smirky computer/football kid (who might as well have had "GUILTY" tattooed on his forehead throughout). The whole scene was ridiculous. It wasn't the actor Chris Mason's fault, but his confession was so poorly written, so unconvincing, so unlike anything any actual psychopathic serial rapist would say, one wondered how the script had got through quality control. As for Olivia Colman getting all emotionally upset, looking horror-struck, and ticking off the rapist as if he was some errant schoolboy caught smoking behind the bike-sheds - well, we've all seen real-life footage of British police officers conducting formal interviews with psychopaths - whether rapists, paedophiles or murderers - and we all know that this simply isn't how police detectives behave. Their job is to secure a confession, not to emote on the public's behalf or to make suspects see the error of their ways.

Adrian Dunbar
I won't be watching Series 4, just in case the main suspects are played by Harry Hill, John Bishop and Michael McIntyre. But I'd happily watch as many series of BBC Two's current cop show, Line of Duty, as they care to make. Thandie Newton as  Detective Chief Inspector Roz Huntley is the truth-twisting, evidence-tampering, bent copper this time round, but it's the excellent Adrian Dunbar (the tall, beaky-nosed, beady-eyed Ulsterman) as Superintendent Ted Hastings, the head of AC 12, who's the main protagonist. Unlike baggy Broadchurch, this one's all about procedures and rules and attention to detail - which makes it fascinating. The most surprising thing about the most recent episode was Thandie Newton - during an interview where it looked as if she'd been caught bang to rights - turning the tables on her interrogators by shamelessly playing the victim card and implying that Adrian Dunbar is out to get her because he's a sexist pig (he called her "darling" at a crime scene): besides, he's a mason, the swine. It all seemed horribly plausible - congratulations to the BBC for okaying this anti-PC plot device, and for allowing the writers to make the traitor who's handing over details of AC 12's  investigation to Thandie Newton's boss the pregnant Asian on the team. Come to think of it, Thandie Newton has a Zimbabwean mother. Colour-blind casting on the BBC - who'd have thought?

(A close relative of mine is convinced that Thandie was supposed to be christened "Sandy", but the vicar had a lisp. I think someone should clear this point up.)
Stefanie Martini
Before watching ITV's Prime Suspect 1973, I read some dismissive reviews of this prequel to the long-running series which starred Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison. Here, the role of Young Jane is taken by Stefanie Martini, who (*TRIGGER WARNING*) just happens to be in Mirren's class, looks-wise - i.e. she's spectacularly but believably attractive. And a good actress, and extremely convincing in the part. I have absolutely no idea what the reviewers were on about: this was a throughly enjoyable, well-made and well-acted drama. Set in a splendidly scuzzy Sweeneyesque milieu of old lags, blags, fags and slags, silly male hairdos, violent Victorian prisons, grim housing estates, drug-dealers, "toms", neanderthal villains, crap cars, piss-ups down the pub, tacky offices and the police slapping suspects name it, it was all there. Yet it somehow avoided being prissy and judgmental about how unevolved we all were back then - there was casual racism and sexism (as there was, of course) but the script didn't bang on about it. Consequently, we were allowed to sit back and enjoy the drama without feeling as if some Guardian "Comment Is Free" SJW was waving a disapproving finger in out faces. It was altogether nicely judged, and I look forward to the next series.

Douglas Hodge and Jack Whitehall
I'll end on a non-criminal note. I've read so much nonsense about the BBC's recent three-part adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, I just want to say that, as a huge fan of the novel, I thought this latest version of a book that is widely regarded as unfilmable was infinitely better than I was expecting: in fact, it was a bit of a triumph. Yes, there were one or two minor changes to accommodate modern sensibilities (for instance, Captain Grimes is a sexually promiscuous homosexual rather than a rampant paedophile, and the reference to foxes being stoned to death with empty champagne bottles had been removed). But the accents and the settings felt right, the script was funny (this sort of arch English humour often slips into tedious "look at us, aren't we an absolute hoot" jocularity - but this was just plain, laugh-out-loud funny), it retained most of the jaw-dropping cruelty of the original, and, while  Jack Whitehall was surprisingly good as the hapless Paul Pennyfeather, Douglas Hodge as the appalling Grimes deserves every award going.

Actually, I won't end there. In case you hadn't noticed, Peter Kay's Car Share is back for a second series. The second episode was broadcast last night. He has evidently decided to avoid "difficult second series" syndrome by making this one just as good as the first. While cop shows are thriving, TV comedy is going through a depressingly lean patch: Car Share is a glorious exception. Sian Gibson as Kayleigh Kitson is, once again, absolutely oustanding.
Peter Kay and Kayleigh Kitson
What with Line of Duty, Decline and Fall and Car Share, the BBC's enjoying a bit of a purple patch right now.

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