Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Bill killed

So farewell to The Bill, led off in handcuffs tonight at 9pm on ITV1 for crimes against the ratings. It's a spectacular send-off, thoroughly deserved, as the show has been a prime-time stalwart for so many years. Having launched in 1984 and since gone through one too many makeovers, it lost its audience in recent years. Best to remember it in the days of 'Tosh' Lines and Frank Burnside. Anyway, tonight, following Liam Martin’s murder and Jasmine Harris’ subsequent gang rape, Smithy and Stone try to track down the gang members responsible…

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Sherlock and Luther return, plus new ITV commissions

Holmes re-boot (© BBC)
Sherlock, the most assured and enjoyable new UK crime series of the year, has been re-commissioned for autumn 2011, the Beeb has confirmed.

The inspired update of the Baker Street sleuth, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, was pacy, had great music and humour, and, most importantly, won 7.5 million viewers on its launch in July.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Luther is also returning with two two-hour specials. The drama starring The Wire's Idris Elba promised a lot, with a good cast and intriguing premise (about a genius detective), but eventually fizzled out with stories that were as convincing as spray-on hair. Still, it clearly did well enough for a recall.

Talking of the Sherlock recommission, which is coming back in three new 90-minute episodes, co-creators, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, say, "We've been overwhelmed by the warmth of response to our new Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and can't wait to take them on three new adventures next year. There'll be baffling new puzzles, old friends and new enemies – whether on two, or four legs. And we might well be seeing the cold master of logic and reason unexpectedly falling. But in love? Or over a precipice? Who can tell?"

The BBC also announced Undisclosed (working title), written by Ronan Bennett (Public Enemies, The Hamburg Cell). It is described as "a taut and compelling mystery thriller revolving around Harry Venn, a small-time solicitor. Forced to delve into his murky past when asked to find a missing alibi witness, Venn soon finds himself caught up in a bigger and more complex conspiracy."

Meanwhile, ITV has announced three crime dramas for 2011. There's an Anthony Horowitz story – Injustice. It stars Jame Purefoy as William Travers, a criminal barrister recovering from traumatic events that have blasted his belief in the legal system. It follows Horowitz's success with Collision on the channel.

Scott and Bailey will star Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp in the title roles of two homicide detectives from Greater Manchester Police’s prestigious Major Incident Team.  The series is scripted by Sally Wainwright, whose drama Unforgiven won the  RTS Award for Best Drama earlier this year.

Finally, The Jury is a series about ordinary people finding themselves at the centre of a major controversial criminal re-trial. It's written by Bafta-winner and Oscar nominee Peter Morgan.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Law & Order: UK, ITV1 PREVIEW

Win some, lose some – the Law & Order: UK team (all pics © ITV)
Rating: ★★★★

ITV1, Thursdays 9pm from 9 Sept

CCTV footage of two children leading a six-year-old boy to his murder offers a clear parallel to the James Bulger case. With it, this third series of Law & Order: UK is back with an explosive opener.

From the first scenes, Broken is an emotionally strong episode. There's the discovery of the body in a derelict South London flat, the tearful police, and DS Ronnie Brooks' summation – 'Just when you think you've seen it all…'

On this estate of deprivation, where mums work 12 hours a day, the kids are left to babysit each other. Brooks and his partner, DS Matt Devlin, aided by the CCTV cameras, are soon mortified to realise two older girls may be responsible for the shocking murder.


This harrowing storyline was a brave one for the makers to take on. It is sensitively told while not ducking the harsh, sometimes self-interested choices made by police and lawyers.

'I want that girl in a hospital, not a prison' 
There's the ugly legal horse-trading, the careerist barrister and the whole issue of how the law should deal with child offenders.

And it has the courage to wear its convictions on its sleeve, particularly when the mother of the murdered boy says she doesn't want the girl who is the main suspect, Rose, to be tried for murder. She wants to know who was really responsible for the girl's atrocious behaviour.

Then, despite the public lynch mobs, tabloid hysteria and the DPP wanting to nail the girl, the director of the Crown Prosecutors, George Castle, announces, 'I want that girl in a hospital, not a prison.'

It's a controversial, powerful opening drama for the series, but one that makes me glad the show's back. When it was imported from the US in 2009, it received lukewarm reviews, but has averaged around 5.9 million viewers an episode.

The US has grown tired of the original after its 20-year run, the plug being pulled by NBC in May.

But here it has hit its stride. At a time when the shambolic The Bill has had to be locked away, Law & Order: UK's snappy, assured storytelling and atmospheric location work makes good viewing. The formula, with each episode split equally between the cops and the prosecutors, is as reliable as an old pair of sturdy handcuffs.

Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber
And the cast is engaging, with Bradley Walsh as ex-alky and copper's copper DS Brooks, and Jamie Bamber as the suave Devlin. Bill Paterson (George Castle), Ben Daniels (senior prosecutor James Steel) and Harriet Walter (very believable as the not-to-be-messed-with DI Chandler) all deliver. Even Doctor Who's ex-partner Freema Agyeman just about holds down her brief as Alesha Phillips.

The final key to its success is that the stories are intriguing, ambiguous affairs, rarely tied up in a neat solution – and that's certainly the case with Broken.

Great scene: when Ben Daniels lays into Rose's callous mother in the dock

U Be Dead, ITV1 PREVIEW

Morrissey and
Fitzgerald
(Pics: ©ITV)
Rating: ★★★★

ITV1, Sunday 5 Sept, 9pm

David Morrissey and Tara Fitzgerald go through the emotional mincer in ITV1’s U Be Dead.

It’s the disturbing true tale of the psychiatrist and his fiancée viciously stalked by Maria Marchese, who was jailed for nine years in 2007 for what the Met called ‘one of the worst cases of stalking we have ever had to investigate’.

So often the manly hero, Morrissey (soon to be DI Thorne in Sky1’s new take on Mark Billingham’s detective) faced a delicate acting challenge as Dr Jan Falkowski, who goes from glamorous professional to stalker’s victim, to love rat and back to sympathetic victim.

‘Prepare for your funeral, not your wedding’ 
Fitzgerald, who is usually able to coast it in Waking the Dead, here reduces a courtroom – and surely a few front rooms when this goes out – to stunned, sympathetic silence as the fiancée forced to contemplate suicide by the vast and terrifying campaign of intimidation waged via mobile phone, email and written notes.

We first see Jan and Debbie Pemberton as a happy-go-lucky, dashing couple (he’s a power boat racer in his leisure hours). They are planning their wedding when the texts from hell arrive, and a two-year vendetta begins.

‘Prepare for your funeral, not your wedding’ is one to Debbie, and ‘U be dead’ another. Jan wants to be strong about it all and the police are informed. But the psychological horror of being targeted with death threats by someone who’s invisible starts to shred everyone’s nerves.

Sham wedding to flush out the stalker
It’s impossible to watch without thinking, Well, what would I do? Throwing away the mobile phones, the stalker's main weapon of persecution, is no use because there are the emails, the written notes under the door, the twenty-odd calls to parents in one day, the stalker’s cancellation of the wedding reception, the bomb threat…

Their tormentor goes round with a bagful of change using dozens of public call boxes that can’t be traced. Friends, relatives and colleagues are obsessively badgered. This is stalking on a near industrial scale.

The couple and their families are under huge stress. Jan eventually starts a secret affair with a younger woman, Bethan Ancell (Lucy Griffiths, seen recently in Collision and Robin Hood).

Despite this, he goes through with a sham wedding to Debbie to flush out the stalker. In a bitingly tense scene, the police finally nab the woman, 45-year-old Argentinian-born Maria Marchese (played by Monica Dolan).

Accused of rape
But as the writer, Gwyneth Hughes, says, the twisting events are barely credible and could never be sold as fiction. So we are stunned but believe it when the Crown Prosecution Service decides there is not enough evidence to prosecute Marchese. She then accuses Jan of raping her.

Jan is a cold character, who has demanded Debbie should have been stronger. But it is to Morrissey’s acting credit that we come round to empathising with him again as the victim of a living torment.

Hughes, whose writing credits include Miss Austen Regrets and Five Days, had input from Jan, Debbie and Bethan and has created a powerhouse drama that will haunt you for days. Over two hours she builds a chilling portrait of two people stripped of their identities by years of lies and threats.

One question not resolved is what made Maria Marchese, who will be eligible for parole in 2012, the malevolent stalker she was.

Great scene: Tara Fitzgerald breaking down and reducing the courtroom to stunned silence

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Agatha Christie Marple, ITV1 PREVIEW

Julia McKenzie
(© ITV)
Rating ★★½

ITV1, Bank Holiday Monday, 9-11pm

Someone said to me last week that in her younger days she had read all 80 detective novels by Agatha Christie.

Talk about misspent youth.

That the Queen of Crime is popular cannot be contested. Only outsold by the Bible, she makes even JK Rowling's success look humdrum.

But are her cosy whodunits any good? Every now and again there's a hoo-ha when some writer disses the old Dame for her flat characters and dull prose, but having a go at her worldwide popularity is like trying to force back the sea.

Millions adore her still, and that's why ITV has long been pumping money into productions of Marple and Poirot.

Marple's still got all her marbles
Watching the latest Marple starring Julia McKenzie – The Pale Horse – clues to the character's appeal can be detected. The idea of a pensioner underestimated as a silly old lady by some but who outsmarts the poisoners and shooters makes her something of a champion.

I find Julia McKenzie too unassuming in the role, and would prefer a little eccentricity, but she seems to be building a following.

The post-war setting obviously seduces some viewers too, with its steam trains, country drawing rooms and domestic servants – all a long way from rowdy, multicultural, ill-mannered contemporary Britain.

Finally, there is the parade of familiar actors doing turns as various stuffed shirts, stock sinister types and pretty maidens. Here we have Neil Pearson (Lejeune), Pauline Collins (Thyrza), Holly Valance (Kanga), Nigel Planer (Venables), Bill Paterson (Bradley) and others.

'Wickedness' at the Pale Horse
All these ingredients are in place at The Pale Horse Inn, where Miss Marple has come to discover who is behind the murder of her old friend, Father Gorman (Nicholas Parsons).

It gets off to a nicely menacing start on a foggy night with Gorman attending a dying lady, to the soundtrack of a radio play of the witches' scene from Macbeth, and talk of 'wickedness'.

The witch theme is continued at the inn, whose village is celebrating the burning of a local witch in 1664, and whose inhabitants include some women claiming to be witches. Pauline Collins' Thyrza even claims modern witches can control victims' minds and force them to kill themselves.

So there are bonfires and weird locals, but the Agatha Christie template is so well worn these days that it is easy to tell the red herrings from the real clues (the author's experience working in a hospital and pharmacy means anyone using ointments or exotic drugs in her stories is nearly always connected to her killer).

Which cardboard character will fold under questioning?
'Good Lord, Mr X must be rolling in money.'

'Yes, and no one knows where it came from. He's quite the mystery man.'

So it definitely ain't Mr X. A lot of characters come under suspicion, all with as much personality as Colonel Mustard in the library, but we know whoever looks most likely is never the guilty one.

The Pale Horse is no different, being the usual contrivance, and predictable in its far-fetched conclusion – but the evidence suggests millions will love it. Perhaps someone is controlling their minds.

Best scene: the creepy, fog-bound opening moments

Sunday, 15 August 2010

David Morrissey's heavy caseload

Morrissey as
Dr Falkowski ©ITV)
Speaking of David Morrissey (Watching the new detectives this autumn – below), Sky1's Tom Thorne dramas are not his only new outing in coming weeks.

He also gives a stand-out performance in U Be Dead on ITV1 in September, the harrowing true story of the London psychiatrist and his fiancée who were viciously stalked by Maria Marchese.

Morrissey is very good as the not-always-sympathetic Dr Jan Falkowski, while Tara Fitzgerald is moving as the fiancée, Debbie Pemberton, whom he cheats on during the dark days of their persecution.

I can't give too much away about the drama – it's is embargoed for a few weeks yet – but I would say the jaw-dropping horror this couple endured, along with the fine acting and writing (by Gwyneth Hughes), make U Be Dead compulsive and unforgettable. Marchese was sentenced to nine years in 2007 and the Met called it 'one of the worst cases of stalking we have had to investigate'.

In terms of crime output, this has been a stunning year for Morrissey. We've already seen him as a detective in the BBC's Five Days (also penned by Gwyneth Hughes), he squeezed in a role in Agatha Christie: Poirot for ITV (Murder on the Orient Express), and then there are the Thorne films, Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat, looming on Sky1.

Somehow, he also put a shift in on Blitz, a movie version of Ken Bruen's novel, starring Jason Statham, Aidan Gillen and Paddy Considine, which apparently is coming out sometime soon.

No one could accuse this guy of not being much cop.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Watching the new detectives this autumn



Two popular Brit detectives make the leap from the novel to small screen soon – Mark Billingham's spooky cop Tom Thorne and Peter Robinson's DCI Banks.

Sky1 has filmed David Morrissey in two Thorne mysteries, the original story in the series, Sleepyhead, and the second, Scaredy Cat.

Sleepyhead, the chilling story of a serial killer who induces in his victim a conscious state of paralysis, also has Natascha McElhone, Aidan Gillen and Eddie Marsan among the cast (Sandra Oh from Grey's Anatomy will appear in Scaredy Cat). For Sky1, Sleepyhead is one of its marquee shows this autumn and details of its broadcast time will be out soon.

Meanwhile, ITV1 has lined up one of its favourite actors, Stephen Tompkinson, to breathe life into Banks. Whether Tompkinson, star of such family faves as Wild at Heart, has the oomph to cut it as a cop pushed to his limits by yet another serial monster in Aftermath should be interesting.

UK telly honchos are always seeking the holy grail of the next Morse, or even a Wexford. But the listings mags are filled with forgotten entries for such flops as Rebus, ITV miserably failing to capture the cussedness and self-destructiveness of Ian Rankin's brilliant character.

We'll soon know whether Peter Robinson, Mark Billingham and their many readers will enjoy a better result. In the meantime, for a taste of Thorne's first outing, check the grisly trailer on Mark Billingham's site.

Scorsese's Boardwalk Empire on Sky 2011


The Making of Boardwalk Empire

The most exciting nugget in the recent announcement that Sky is to become home to all HBO's gold-standard programming is the arrival next year of Martin Scorsese's Prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire.

It's scripted by The Sopranos Emmy-winning writer Terence Winter and has Steve Buscemi in the lead as Nucky Thompson, Atlantic City's real-life political boss and racketeer. Michael Pitt and William Hill also star, along with Brits Kelly Macdonald and Stephen Graham, who follows his Baby Face Nelson in Public Enemies with a turn here as Al Capone.

Other notorious faces of the time who crop up are Lucky Luciano and Arnold Rothstein.

CrimeTimePreview will be following the build-up to this big hunk of event TV and preview it at the first opportunity. In the meantime, feast your eyes…



Sunday, 8 August 2010

Loss of Identity

Aidan Gillen, Keeley Hawes and the stylish Identity Unit (© ITV)

I think I’ll join the police.

Look at how buff the detectives are in Identity, and how cool the offices are that they swan about in. Nice views, sleek decor, no clutter.

And I’m sure I could handle being reprimanded by Keeley Hawes. Every day, if necessary.

It’s a long way from my days as a crime reporter on the Hackney Gazette. The local nick at Stoke Newington was a cramped Victorian building, tiny windows, smelly and full of beefy blokes whose bellies stretched their shirt buttons.

All right, I realise that these days reality is out (except on reality shows) and programme makers exaggerate the glamorous side of coppering. But I was pretty impressed with Identity when it started. A fresh crime show devoid of the usual serial killers and paedophile twists, it was inspired by real and dark incidents of identity fraud. The swanky office and beautiful police were minor distractions.

But Identity reaches the end of its first series this week and sadly it’s got a fair bit more daft. Loose cannon DI Bloom – played with verve by Aidan Gillen and easily the show’s star – was always pushing the envelope with his habit of stabbing suspects and breaking and entering as he felt like it.

But keeping a corpse in his fridge? Come on.

Writer Ed Whitmore created a series that looked very promising, having researched real-life identity crimes and created episodes in which people have stolen identities, reinvented themselves as someone they've murdered or exacted revenge through credit fraud and ingenious frame-ups. Very contemporary, very disturbing.

However, as regular viewers know, overshadowing all this has been Bloom's slightly deranged attempt to work for DSI Martha Lawson (Keeley Hawes) on the Identity Unit while secretly freelancing in his old job as an undercover cop who has infiltrated a drugs gang. Hence, the stiff in the icebox.


In the finale, things really get untidy for Mr Dual Identity. His office enemy, Anthony (Shaun Parkes), knows what has displaced the milk and veg from Bloom's fridge. 

It all gets a bit implausible. Will Bloom keep his job? Will he save his gangster moll lover? Will he forget whether he's a crook or a cop (he has looked doubtful at times)?


I won't spoil it, but I do hope that if the series returns it calms down a bit and gets over its identity crisis.


Monday 9 August, 9pm, ITV1