Monday, 21 July 2014

Peaky Blinders — Killer TV No.39

Peaky Blinders series 1 BBC
Mob-handed – Thomas Shelby and the Peaky Blinders. Pics BBC
BBC2, 2013-

‘You don’t parley when you’re on the back foot. We’ll strike a blow first.’ –Tommy Shelby

Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Annabelle Wallis, Iddo Goldberg, Paul Anderson, Sophie Rundle, Andy Nyman, Benjamin Zephaniah

Identikit: A gangster family clan in post-First World War Birmingham, England, are led by Tommy Shelby in a bid to expand their empire.

2013 saw three exceptional crime dramas produced by UK television – Broadchurch, The Fall and Peaky Blinders. Like the first two, the success of this epic story is down to it being the inspired project of one writer with what seems to be little buggering about from know-nothings in management. Chris Chibnall and Allan Cubitt were the masterminds behind Broadchurch and The Fall respectively, while Steve Knight based Peaky Blinders on knowledge of his hometown, Birmingham, and family tales he had heard about the Peaky Blinders, gangsters of the 1920s famed for the razors hidden in the peaks of their flat caps. 'It's based on real events,’ he says. 'My parents, particularly my dad, had these tantalising memories of from when he was nine- or 10-years-old of these people. They were incredibly well-dressed, they were incredibly powerful, they had a lot of money in an area where no one had money and... they were gangsters.’ From these recollections emerges a series that is a world away from most UK crime series, with their detective/sidekicks, serial killers and cosy settings. This is gangster tale heavily influenced by American productions from Once Upon a Time In America to Boardwalk Empire, down to the rock soundtrack (Nick Cave, the White Stripes, etc), the slo-mo sequences and the Roaring Twenties styles. Thomas Shelby is a decorated combatant from the trenches,
Annabelle Wallis as Grace in Peaky Blinders series 1
Barmaid with a secret – Grace
who has returned home damaged by his war experiences. He assumes control of the family’s crime empire of illegal bookmaking and protection, bypassing his elder brother Arthur and family matriarch Aunt Polly, who ran things during the war. After Tommy takes charge of machine-guns stolen from the local BSA factory, the city is targeted by the government – and Winston Churchill – who fear the weapons may be used in an uprising, such is the level of post-war unrest. The brutal Chief Inspector Campbell (a menacing performance by Sam Neill) is summoned from Belfast to find the guns at all costs. The rivalries (particularly with gambling crime boss Billy Kimber), the lust (Tommy is lured by Irish spy Grace Burgess) and the family tensions (Tommy’s sister becomes pregnant by his one-time best friend) are played out well against the unforgettable recreation of industrial Birmingham, with its foundaries and soot and street braziers. The accents wobble, but Cillian Murphy is charismatic as Tommy, Helen McCrory has authority as Polly and Annabelle Wallis is intriguing as the beautiful but steely Grace. The cinematography is luscious, offering a vision of the period that isn't twee window-dressing, but which instead reveals a genuine fascination for the political turmoil and social mores of a Birmingham largely forgotten (how refreshing to see Britain’s second biggest city in the spotlight). This is ambitious drama-making that is seen too seldom on play-it-safe British TV. A second season is in the pipeline for 2014.

Theme music: Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Classic episode: The story comes nicely to the boil in episode three, when Tommy's wartime trauma is revealed (he was deployed in tunnelling under the Germans), and despite his cold exterior he seems to be warming to the woman sent to spy on him, Grace.

Watercooler fact: New Zealander Sam Neill is particularly convincing with the difficult Ulster accent because he was actually born in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Spiral — Killer TV No.40

Spiral cast for series 3
Law & order French-style
2005-present, Canal+

'I'd have sold my soul if I had one.' – Marchard

Caroline Proust, Grégory Fitoussi, Philippe Duclos, Thierry Godard, Fred Bianconi, Audrey Fleurot

Identikit: The Parisian police and judiciary tackle crime, while internally they are riven with mistakes, corruption and careerists.

Spiral gets the nod ahead of Braquo on the basis that it is not quite as deranged as the latter. Its French title, Engrenages or gears/cogs, gives a flavour of what the series has been about in its four seasons (a fifth is being filmed). Like Law & Order, it delves into the workings of police and judiciary, but with an emphasis on the realpolitik of the legal profession and the dirty side policing. The focus is on police captain Laure Berthaud and her lieutenants, Gilou Escoffier and 'Tintin' Fromentin, along with Judge François Roban, prosecutor Pierre Clément and a lawyer, the glamorous and cynical Joséphine Karlsson. Laure and her team occasionally overstep the mark, using too much force or with the captain herself suspected of unlawfully shooting a suspect at the start of series 4, but they are always bound by mutual loyalty in the face of violent criminals and the incompetence and ambition of their superiors. This theme of self-serving venality carries over to the legal eagles, with Judge Roban having battles at the Palais de Justice with Prosecutor Marchard over various dodgy goings-on, and Karlsson involved in every shady opportunity to further her bank balance and her fame. Series 4 was probably the best, weaving together a gripping mix of political terrorism, police cock-ups, crime lords and snogging (Joséphine/Pierre, anarchists Sophie/Thomas, etc). The series are complex, sometimes convoluted and near silly, but Spiral's sophisticated characterisation and absorbing portrayal of the cynical law enforcement agencies makes it a must-see drama. A fifth series will arrive in 2014. 

Classic episode: The finale to series three had it all – the snog between Karlsson and Clément probably melted a few remote controls at home; Gilou stamping on Vlad's balls before having an apparent heart-attack later on and making up with his boss, skipper Laure; heartbreak for Judge Roban and Isabelle; and Laure brutally killing the villain and avoiding a trial that could have exposed police procedural cock-ups, brutality, witnesses recompensed with coke and evidence fiddling. Gene Hunt would be proud.

Watercooler fact: Spiral has been a huge hit for Canal+, being sold in 70-odd countries, among them Mexico, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Italy and Croatia.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Banshee 2, Sky Atlantic, with Antony Starr, Ivana Milicevic

Banshee Series 2.Ep01 - Little Fish.Antony Starr as Lucas Hood
When he's not the sheriff of Banshee, Lucas Hood is robbing security vans. Pics: Sky
Rating: ★★★★

Sky Atlantic: starts Monday, 7 July, 10.10pm

Story: Hood and the gang deal with the fallout from the bloody shootout with Rabbit.

WHEN IT comes to the crime genre, Banshee is resolutely in the guilty pleasure bracket.

It's lurid, far-fetched and full of brain-numbing violence.

Banshee Series 2.Ep01 - Little Fish..Ivana Milicevic as Carrie Hopewell
An uncertain future for Ana
We've seen some serious, thought-provoking crime dramas this year, including Happy Valley, True Detective and Line of Duty. Banshee ain't one of them.

In comparison, it's a graphic novel with some soft porn and cartoonish fighting thrown in – but if you like your TV a lot feistier and in-your-face than Midsomer Murders, then it's fairly irresistible.

Needless to say, the first series reached a crescendo of explosive action as Sheriff Hood and his cohorts shot it out with barmy Ukrainian gangster Rabbit.

Lucas Hood is the man with no name

Hood, just to recap, is not the real name of a our protagonist here. He is the man with no name because he assumed the identity of the guy appointed to be sheriff when the latter was killed in a bar fight. And 'Hood' has never introduced himself to us. Well, he is an ex-convict.

What we do know is that Hood came to Banshee in Amish country to reconnect with the love of his life, Anastasia, his partner in crime.

Banshee Series 2.Ep01 - Little Fish..Hoon Lee as Job
Job on the bank job
Season two's opener has the boring job of tying up the many, many illegalities and plot ends from season one. This entails a lot of talk with a creepy FBI cadaver called Jim Racine, who conveniently decides that, rather than putting everyone in jail for the mayhem and killings they've committed, they should all stay in situ, thus ensuring season two can carry on where the first left off.

Racine's flimsy reasoning is that they can act as bait to draw out the evil Rabbit again. You thought he was dead after being shot a couple of times? Not in Banshee-land.

Ana's facing jail

Racine does, however, make an exception for Ana, who ends up facing 30 days in jail for firearms offences.

Amid all the courtroom chit-chat in episode one, there is a spectacular bank robbery carried out by Sheriff Hood and his crew to inject a bit of insane action into the eyes of fans who may feel they have stumbled onto an episode of The Good Wife by accident.

By episode two, it is business as usual. Rebecca, the niece of villainous Kai Proctor, is kidnapped by
Banshee Series 2.First Look..Ivana Milicevic as Carrie Hopewell
New girl on the block – Ana
Alex Longshadow, the tribal chief and Proctor's rival, Hood is getting undressed with every passing female again, and Proctor reveals an interesting way to intimidate folk with a Jacuzzi full of cow's blood and offal.

If this all sounds preposterous, I'd have to agree.

So why is it worth watching? Great characters such as Hood's cross-dressing computer hacker chum Job, and the ex-boxer and bar-owner Sugar Bates, who's a font of neat one-liners – 'You don't know "simple" when you see it.'

It is slick, the action is pulsating and it is full of peril for the characters, particularly loved-crossed Ana and Hood. Finally, it offers the visceral thrill of seeing a gallery of repellent bullies getting payback.

Cast: Antony Starr Lucas Hood, Ivana Milicevic Ana, Ulrich Thomsen Kai Proctor, Ben Cross Mr Rabbit, Frankie Faison Sugar Bates, Anthony Ruivivar Alex Longshadow, Odette Annable Nola Longshadow, Derek Cecil Agent Dean Xavier, Zeljko Ivanek Agent Jim Racine

Check out these links…
Banshee on Sky Atlantic
Banshee on Cinemax

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Common, BBC1, Nico Mirallegro, Susan Lynch, Jodhi May, Daniel Mays PREVIEW

Margaret Ward (SUSAN LYNCH), Johnjo O'Shea (NICO MIRALLEGRO), Coleen O'Shea (JODHI MAY)
In the frame – Johnjo, with Margaret and Colleen. Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: Sunday, 6 July, 9pm 

Story: When seventeen-year-old Johnjo O’Shea gives his friends an impromptu lift to a pizza parlour, he doesn’t expect to find himself charged with murder. 

JIMMY MCGOVERN has written some unflinching dramas, with his series including Accused and The Street. Full of moral dilemmas and often uncomfortable to watch, they are a long way removed from your average costume drama or cop procedural.

Common is also another unsettling tale, all the more so because it explores a real contemporary legal controversy, the Joint Enterprise or Common Purpose law under which someone can be charged with a crime for being in the company of the person who commits it. This is actually the second drama dealing with the issue, following 2012's Murder: Joint Enterprise on BBC2, which was similarly hard-hitting.
DI Hastings arrives for Johnjo

Teen Johnjo jumps at the chance to the drive his cousin and a couple of his big mates to get a pizza. He's left in the car, but when the trio spill out of the pizza he soon realises that one of them, Kieran, has stabbed another lad for looking at him.

Johnjo goes to the police

From then on, Johnjo (Nico Mirallegro) is lost in a legal maze, the victim's family is obviously
Johnjo O'Shea (NICO MIRALLEGRO), Tony Wallace (PHILIP HILL PEARSON), Colin McCabe (JACK McMULLEN), Kieran Gillespie (ANDREW ELLIS)
In the dock – Johnjo, Tony, Colin and Kieran
distraught, while Johnjo and his family are under threat from Kieran's family.

It seems like common sense when JohnJo's cousin tells him, 'You can put your hand on your heart and say you knew nothing about it… we'll back you up… you've got nothing to worry about.'

And when Johnjo goes to the police and says, 'I've done nothing wrong, I'm just telling the truth,' he doesn't even want a lawyer.

Susan Lynch is moving as the victim's mum

This conflict between Joint Enterprise and natural justice has clearly agitated the award-winning McGovern for some time, and that sense of exasperation and outrage makes this a compelling and provocative 90 minutes.

Every top British actor seems eager to work for the writer – the late Bob Hoskins, Christopher
Royal Court Judge (SIR MICHAEL GAMBON)
Administering justice (Sir Michael Gambon)
Ecclestone, Juliet Stevenson, Sean Bean, Peter Capadi, Jane Horrocks and many more – but, goodness, does he put them through the emotional wringer. Susan Lynch is superb as the victim's mother, raging at her estranged husband (Daniel Mays), grieving and struggling to pay for her son's burial. Jodhi May has never been more affecting as Johnjo's mother, and their two characters articulate the callous injustice exacted on families.

But despite all the tears and anger and legal brutality, the drama is full of tenderness, even for the less sympathetic characters, and moments of humanity. In other words, it's a typically passionate McGovern story.

Cast: Nico Mirallegro Johnjo O’Shea, Susan Lynch Margaret Ward, Jodhi May Coleen O’Shea, Daniel Mays Tommy Ward, Andrew Tiernan Peter O’Shea, Robert Pugh DI Hastings, Michelle Fairley Shelagh Wallace, Philip Hill Pearson Tony Wallace, Andrew Ellis Kieran Gillespie, Jack McMullen Colin McCabe, Ben Smith Patrick O’Shea, Sir Michael Gambon Royal Courts Judge

Check out these links…
Our review of Murder: Joint Enterprise
Guilty by Association is a BBC1 documentary (Monday, 7 July) about Joint Enterprise

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Utopia series 2, Ch4, with Alexandra Roach, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, Neil Maskell

Pietre in Channel 4's Utopia series 2
Mad about the boy – young Pietre in Utopia 2. Pics: Ch4
Rating: ★★★★

Ch4: July, date and time to be confirmed

Story: How did the Janus project to save humanity begin during 1979's Winter of Discontent? And, in the present day, what has happened to Jessica, Arby, Ian, Grant and Becky…

NO SOONER has Fargo been put into cold storage than Ch4 has another drama for viewers needing something a little, shall we say, outre

Utopia's first series last year was certainly on the excessive side, with teeth-gnashing violence and a stunningly off-kilter conspiracy tale.

It's great to see it return with its surreal style, quirky soundtrack (by Cristobal Tapia de Veer) and nightmarish mood.

Utopia series 2 Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde
Where is Jessica? Locked up…

Utopia returns with a double-bill

Series two launches as a double-bill over consecutive nights, with the opener being an hour-long
flashback to the origins of the whole mad Janus conspiracy. We see how scientist Philip Carvel (Tom Burke) dreams up a plan with security agent Milner (Game of Throne's Rose Leslie) to save the world from overcrowding by secretly sterilising 95 percent of the population.

In the time-honoured tradition of know-it-all scientists from Dr Frankenstein to Dr Strangelove, the best laid plans – 'We're creating Utopia' – go awry as Carvel and Milner's relationship fractures.

In addition, Carvel fears for his daughter Jessica – yes Jessica Hyde, protagonist of series one – whom Milner is threatening, while also consumed with guilt over his experimentation on his toddler son, Pietre.

Rose Leslie as Milner in Utopia 2
Rose Leslie as deadly agent Milner

Neil Maskell, Fiona O'Shaughnessy and Adeel Akhtar

With the little monster child, writer Dennis Kelly's sadistic humour flourishes again. Carvel's deranged bid to use the boy as a guinea pig for a treatment to inhibit violence turns the lad into a mini-Hannibal Lecter instead.

The opener is a wonderful evocation of that period of 1970s industrial mayhem, political paranoia and conspiracy incontinence. Thrown into the mix are Margaret Thatcher, Airey Neave (played by Tim McInnerny), the IRA, Aldo Moro and much more.

Episode two reunites us with the old gang who became embroiled in the conspiracy last time round – Jessica (Fiona O'Shaughnessy), who's been held captive by latter-day Milner (Geraldine James), Arby (Neil Maskell), Ian (Nathan Stewart Jarrett), Grant (Oliver Woollford) and Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar). The story rumbles on with news of the Network and its plans for 'V' Day…

Without ever trying to make a coherent case about the political shenanigans of the past 35 years, Utopia remains an engrossing and distinctive mashup of paranoia, dark suspicions and black humour. When it comes to conspiracy yarns, the drama is – to borrow the title of the 1979 Madness album – one step beyond.

Check out these links…
Utopia series 1 review
The music of Cristobal Tapia de Veer
Utopia Channel 4

Friday, 27 June 2014

Five Daughters — Killer TV No.41

BBC1, 2010

‘I’m not a waste of time, space or oxygen. I deserve the air that I breathe. I stand on corners, alone, lonely, waiting, always for one last time. I love and I am loved. I am alive, except when I choose to play dead…’ – Annette Nicholls

Ian Hart, Sarah Lancashire, Jaime Winstone, Ruth Negga, Joseph Mawle, Vicky McClure, Kierston Wareing

Identikit: Factually based drama telling the stories of five young women who were murdered in Ipswich in 2006.

‘This is madness,’ says DCS Stewart Gull in this fact-based drama, and those words sum up the dismay – among public and within the police – that surrounded the shocking series of five murders in Ipswich during late 2006. Amid the car chases, brilliant deductions, twisting whodunits and maverick cops, British television occasionally produces a serious drama that punctures the fiction by offering an insight into the real pain behind the crime story headlines. Five Daughters was about the Ipswich serial murders committed by Steve Wright and the impact on the victims' families. Stephen Butchard wrote a hugely compassionate three-parter that showed that the victims, whatever their backgrounds as sex workers and drug users, were individuals who were loved and profoundly missed by those close to them. Completely free of cop-show cliches, it was based on the personal testimonies of those close to the events in 2006. It tells, for example, of Anneli Alderton’s hopes of
starting her own hairdressing business after coming out of Holloway Prison, or Gemma Adams turning to a drug charity project to break her heroin addiction and get out of the sex trade. And all along is the loving support of mothers, siblings and friends as the women battle to turn their lives around. Cops and killer were not the focus, but the ordinary lives devastated by these awful crimes were. The production was low-key and sensitive, and beautifully acted by a fine cast of young and experienced actors. Though painful to watch at times, the mini-series went some way to help redress the wrong done to the women by showing them as the good, decent people behind the often lurid headlines. 

Watercooler fact: Following Five Daughters, writer Stephen Butchard returned to the fiction side of crime with Sky Atlantic’s Falcon and BBC1’s excellent Good Cop, starring Warren Brown.

Other links…
Best crime dramas of 2010

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Wallander: The Sad Bird, BBC4 – final episode

Krister Henriksson in his final outing as Wallander. Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★★

BBC4: Saturday, 21 June, 9pm

Story: A well-known restaurant owner is kidnapped at gunpoint, and as his family waits for a ransom demand, the Ystad team tries to untangle a web of deceit surrounding the missing man.

And now the end is near, Kurt faces his final curtain. We've come a long way with Krister Henriksson's Ystad detective – he's been on UK screens since 2008 – and of course many fans have devoured Henning Mankell's popular novels – but tonight's story, The Sad Bird, is the Swedish series' final episode.

Sad is right, too. Kurt, faced with a difficult case about a kidnapped restaurateur, is also grappling with his fading mental faculties following his Alzheimer's diagnosis.

We've recently seen Poirot's dignified demise on ITV, and authors often prefer a grander send-off for their creations – such as Holmes plunging with Moriarity over the Reichenbach Falls – but it is to be expected that Mankell, Sweden's most distinguished crime novelist, would give his man a more down-to-earth, sobering end.

Krister Henriksson's final Wallander episode

Having done such an excellent job is exploring modern Sweden's challenges with immigration, social
Linda Wallander (CHARLOTTA JONSSON), Hans von Enke (LEONARD TERFELT) Wallander BBC4
Linda tells her husband about Kurt's condition
disintegration and inequality, it is fitting that the author should use Wallander to explore one of the great medical crises facing society.

Painful viewing it is. We've stuck with the detective through his failures as a parent and his solitary lifestyle. But seeing him feeding his dog twice, losing his keys and forgetting the victim's name is glum viewing. His daughter Linda also gives us a taste of how harrowing it is to be the close relative of an Alzheimer's sufferer.

It is a sign of how well we feel know and empathise with the lonely but decent Wallander that this final 90 minutes with Krister Henriksson's portrayal is so affecting.

Henriksson, Lassgård or Branagh?

But, of course, there is also an engrossing investigation woven into the story. Paolo Salino is a successful restaurant owner – but his business seems to have a turnover way higher than it should. Is this down to drugs? Is there corruption involved?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sky Atlantic's Gomorrah is a big hit in Italy

GANG DRAMAS have ruled in recent years. There's been Peaky Blinders on the Beeb, Mob City on Fox and before that the landmark HBO bruisers The Sopranos and The Wire.

But the Italian drama Gomorrah, based on Roberto Saviano's 2006 non-fiction book about the Naples underworld (which was also spun off into the 2008 movie by Matteo Garrone), could be one of the most interesting – and hard-hitting – yet.

It's been a big draw on Sky Italia, where it finished its run earlier this month, and it's been sold to 50-odd countries, with Sky Atlantic, the Italian network's sister channel, nabbing it for the UK.

Much of its power is obviously down it being based on real events, filmed in the rougher parts of Naples, and its gritty tone.

Gomorrah's killers, dealers and corrupt politicians

Stefano Sollima, who also made the hit series Romanzo Criminale, is responsible for the series'
art direction and directed some episodes. He's expert at giving his dramas a vérité feel.

Gomorrah, a 12-parter, carries a pungent tang of violence and cynicism as it retells the story of rival factions of the Camorra, the Naples mafia, in the grotty suburb of Scampia 10 years ago. Killers, drug dealers and bent politicians are its dramatis personae. Marco D'Amore plays Ciro, pushy right-hand man of the clan's godfather, who grabs power when the boss is imprisoned.

The shoot was complicated, involving long negotiations with community activists – but no deals, the makers say, with local mobsters. Scampia is a world away from the fading baroque splendour of Naples, a zone of alienating motorways and crumbling 1960s housing estates.
The greatest Italian crime series is:
Inspector Montalbano? Inspector De Luca? Young Montalbano? Romanzo Criminale?
Tell us your opinion in the comment box below… 

The authenticity included having the largely unknown local cast of actors speaking in thick Neapolitan dialect, which other Italians struggle to make sense of, but which paid off, in that the series was still a ratings success.

Sky Atlantic is certainly delighted to have it. Julia Barry, Channel Director, says, 'Following on the success of Sky Atlantic's first bi-lingual drama The Tunnel, we're thrilled to announce the acquisition of the channel's first foreign language series. With cinematic scale and a gripping tale of conflict, loyalty and power, Gomorrah is a perfect addition to Sky Atlantic.'

Gomorrah will hit Sky Atlantic in August.

Also check out…

Stefano Sollima talks about Romanzo Criminale
Hollywood Reporter on Gomorrah
Romanzo Criminale — Killer 50