Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Brenda Blethyn as Vera • Undisclosed

Two-time Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn charmed the press at ITV1's launch for Vera, the new adaptation of Ann Cleeves' detective stories looming at the end of April. Of her being chosen for the part, the actress said, 'Vera is a huge woman, looks like a bag lady. I thought, why have they thought of me.'

In fact, as fans of the novels will know, Vera looks as though it would 'take a crane to shift her, one of those huge cranes that towered over the river down at Wallsend'. Shapeless clothes, badly cut hair, Vera has not become a detective inspector on the basis of her looks. Brenda, for all the layers of clothes she wears, is not as sumo-esque as Vera is in the books, but she still conjures up an interesting, solitary heroine.

Paul Rutman, who adapted the story, said, 'Vera is a unique character in British television. She has a freedom in being solitary. There's no self-pity. She's a great character.'

Brenda said, 'It's the first time I've played a policewoman seriously.' Of Vera's Geordie accent, the actress explained, 'The accent is notoriously difficult, but I had a good teacher. I learned by going to town and talking to shoppers. And I listened to Cheryl Cole a lot.' The other difficulties she encountered filming in Northumberland were, 'dealing with the cold – fortunately, I had layers of clothes on… and having to run.'

Her favourite TV detectives? 'All the usual suspects,' she said. 'Wallander, Frost, Colombo. I like them all. I loved Joan Hickson's Miss Marple.'

A preview of Vera will follow later, but I would say it is a quite beautifully filmed mystery. 

Philip Glenister, fresh from Sky1's Mad Dogs, will be joining David Suchet in BBC1's new thriller, Undisclosed

The brains behind it are pretty impressive. It's written and created by Ronan Bennett (Public Enemies, Hamburg Cell) and Walter Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, Fail Safe). It features a small-time solicitor, Harry Venn (Glenister), who is unwittingly drawn into investigating the death of his brother 20 years previously. He is soon caught in a conspiracy emanating from the heart of the British political system.

Glenister says, 'I am looking forward to shooting Undisclosed which I feel is a bold, innovative, complex piece of drama.'

Bennett adds, 'I have really enjoyed collaborating with Walter on Undisclosed and I am delighted the drama has attracted such an outstanding cast. I hope the twists and turns of this conspiracy thriller will keep audiences hooked.'

Cast includes: David Suchet (Agatha Christie: Poirot) as Sir Nigel Fountain; Richard Dormer (My Boy Jack) plays Frank Hanna; Mark Powley (Bronson, The Bill) plays Mark Venn; Peter Guinness Sleepy Hollow, Red Cap) plays Jason Styles; Benjamin Smith (Nowhere Boy) plays Matt; Matthew Marsh (Luther, Spy Game) plays James Morpeth; Paul Ritter (Larkrise to Candleford) plays Stevie Quirke; and Thomas Craig (Murdoch Mysteries) plays DS/DI Fenton Russell. 

Book of the week – Truth Lies Bleeding by Tony Black. The Edinburgh author steps away from his part-time sleuth and full-time drinker Gus Dury, hero of terrific stories such as Gutted and Long Time Dead, to give us a new hero, Inspector Rob Brennan. Just back from psychiatric leave after the murder of his brother, Brennan is immediately faced with a horrific case that pushes him to the limit. A teenage girl is found dismembered in a dumpster. Brennan has a rather cynical view of the world (it's not hard to see why), marital problems and a boss on his back. His only way through is to try to do the job and hope his brutal capital city will make some sense eventually. Truth Lies Bleeding pins the reader to their chair with deft action, sharp characters and a harrowing plot. The paperback's out in July. Well worth catching.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Killing was a killer show

Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl). Pic: BBC
Since posting about Why The Killing Is the Best Thing on TV, crimetimepreview has been inundated with comments and thousands of hits from the growing army of fans for this superb Danish thriller.

Around 80 people so far have commented on that post, from a Doctor Who scriptwriter to viewers who cancelled their eagle-spotting holiday in Scotland to avoid missing BBC4's Saturday night double-bill. Posts compared the 20-parter to The Wire, Prime Suspect, and, further back, to largely forgotten classics such as Out, starring Tom Bell, and The Sandbaggers, with Roy Marsden. Some said it was without equal.

What comes through strongly in the comments is that many viewers are bored with the unambitious dramas churned out by the Beeb and ITV so often these days.

'To think I used to watch Casualty on Saturday night…' was one comment, while another said, 'I wish we could see this kind of quality produced in the UK.'

Vagn was the man and Troels sold out
Rather than costume cops (Inspector George Gently and Marple etc) and extending Midsomer and Morse into eternity, perhaps now is the time for the big guns of ITV, BBC, C4 and BSkyB to raise their game (though BSkyB's soon-to-be seen Martina Cole drama, The Take, is spunkier than most terrestrial shows around right now). After all, the brilliance of The Killing is nothing to do with big budgets or armies of American scriptwriters – it's about cliche-free storytelling and sharply drawn characters.

As for the finale – my personal theory that Rie and Brix were involved in some cover-up was revealed to be total poppycock. Vagn (Nicolaj Kopernikus) was the man, and Troels (Lars Mikkelsen), who melted many female hearts, was shown to be a typical politician in the end – two-faced and unburdened by integrity, selling out Rie and his principles just as his arch-rival Bremer predicted.

While there was no explanation for Vagn's sexual abuse of Nanna, this aspect of his revolting crime still made sense. He had creepily immersed himself into the Birk Larsen family (Jan Meyer was right about him!) and he was clearly bent on destroying what he seemed to love but couldn't have.

Sarah Lund pays the price
And such a bittersweet end for Sarah Lund. A brilliant moment when she realised what 'Sara 84' – Meyer's deathbed utterance – meant. But what a price to pay to being proved correct – family and lovelife wrecked, work partner murdered… And what a total tragedy for the innocent Birk Larsens.

Quibbles? Well, what was that business with the sabotaged lighting outside Sarah's apartment? Had there been someone watching her? And it was a bit of a stretch, surely, for Vagn to get out to the ship, murder Frevert and not be spotted by anyone onboard. Had Frevert known all along about Vagn's crime? More importantly, can someone explain to me how Vagn ended up at the party's apartment with Nanna, before taking her to Theis's new house to kill her? I might have to watch it all again.

Livvagterne, anyone?

One viewer posted a comment saying that The Killing was not the only excellent Danish thriller around. He hoped LivvagterneThe Bodyguards would also get a showing here.

So, perhaps while the BBC or ITV starts to commission its own original and gripping new crime series, it could check out purchasing Livvagterne.

In the meantime, Spiral will be back on BBC4 before The Killing II returns in the autumn. The trailer for that looked pretty good, too.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Aline Templeton: Third Degree

Aline Templeton is the author of the series of novels about DI Marjory Fleming, set in Scotland. Her stand-alone mysteries include Past Praying For, The Trumpet Shall Sound and Shades of Death. She lives in Edinburgh. She was brought into crimetimepreview HQ for questioning about her TV viewing habits…
Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
Zen. How COULD they axe it?  That was a cult in the making.
Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
No US crime series has ever come up to The West Wing. I'm still suffering withdrawal symptoms.

Top TV cop?
Adam Dalgleish, but only as portrayed by Roy Marsden.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
Apart from DI Marjory Fleming, you mean? Jasper Fforde's wild and wacky Tuesday Next, with her pet dodo.

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?
Ronni Ancona. Like Marjory, she's big, but perfectly formed.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience?
Masterchef. Like the glossy cooking magazines, it's food porn, really.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?
Wallander. I got bored. In fact, I'm not keen on anything that seems to have been filmed in Stygian gloom.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?  
The Sopranos – if I have to choose!
Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?
Again, what's this choice thing?  If I must, Marple but only with Joan Hickman – those merciless faded-blue eyes.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?
Neither – see above!

US or British television crime dramas?
British, definitely. I prefer the more subtle style.

Have you got into The Killing on BBC4?
No, not yet.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
John le Carre's The Constant Gardener was so good it posed the question why does anyone else bother? It depressed me profoundly. But overall it would be PD James – a brilliant literary writer, a superb analytical mind and a wonderful person too.
Favourite non-crime/thriller author
Jane Austen, I'm afraid, but Henry James is right up there too.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?
Wait until Dark, directed by Terence Young and starring Audrey Hepburn. The ultimate horror – being blind and knowing someone is there ready to kill you and not knowing where they are. I couldn't watch it again. It took me weeks to grow my nails back.
You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?
Albert Campion. Lugg would give me protection, he'd sort everything out and make me laugh meantime.
Aline's sixth novel in the Marjory Fleming series, Cradle to Grave, is out on 31 March.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Bored to Death, Sky Atlantic, PREVIEW

Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) gets his first client. Pics: BSkyB
Rating ★★★

Sky Atlantic, from Monday, 28 March, 10.15pm

Hats off to Jonathan Ames for convincing HBO's honchos to green-light a comedy series called, of all things, Bored to Death. Ames, the American author and series creator, must have sweet powers of persuasion.

As the title suggests, this is an off-beat comedy. Which means it is quirky, wry, but does not have many laugh-out-loud moments.

Dumped – Jonathan's girlfriend moves out
Here's the deal. Magazine journo Jonathan Ames – Jason Schwartzman playing the on-screen alter-ego of the series' creator – is dumped by his girl, reads Farewell My Lovely and decides to moonlight as an unlicensed private eye. Why? Hard to say, particularly as Jonathan is a clueless clue hound, a klutz, who bungles his way to solving his cases.

Echoes of Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam
For his first case, he is asked to track down a young woman's missing sister. The gag is that when he finds the absentee's boyfriend, they bond over a joint and Jonathan can start bleating about the fact that he too has been dumped by his girlfriend.

In episode two, when another woman asks him to check out a boyfriend she suspects is cheating on her, Jonathan again goes into self-revelation mode to her – 'My girlfriend left me.' And the same when he meets his ex. Asking her to come back, he says, 'I have no toilet paper, no food, no toothpaste.' How can she resist?

How can we? All too easily. Bored to Death doesn't work if you're not charmed by Jonathan, who is basically a poor man's Woody Allen, circa Play It Again, Sam. Like Allen, Jonathan is a New York neurotic – 'I'm not good with anger, I go straight to depression.'

Viagra, booze and pot – George (Ted Danson)
Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis
Allen's persona of this era was fun and sophisticated, where Jonathan is whiney and unfunny. A scene in episode two where he sidles up to the supposedly unfaithful boyfriend in a gym and quizzes him about whether he picks up women there is stupid. You don't want to laugh, you want the boyfriend to deck the weirdo.

Laughs are to be had, however, when Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis put in an appearance as Jonathan's magazine editor, George, and friend, Ray, respectively. Danson is terrific as the past-it man about town, now on heart medicine, Viagra, booze and pot.

And all the best lines go Galifianakis's way – 'Leah [his girlfriend] wants me to change my diet, so that when I'm with her I eat healthy, and when I'm not, I eat like an American.'

Mary Steenburgen
Bored to Death's first season had mixed reviews in the US, the second fared better, and a third has been commissioned (with Danson's wife, Mary Steenburgen, joining the cast somewhere along the line, apparently).

So maybe the show will eventually hit its stride. Until it does, Castle over on the Alibi channel is more fun.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Martina Cole's The Runaway, Sky1 – PREVIEW

Newcomer Joanna Vanderham as Cathy. Pics: BSkyB
Rating ★★★★½

Sky1, from Thursday, 31 March, 9pm

Some people read one Martina Cole novel and stop there – the books being too nasty for their taste.

So this brutish new series about London criminals based on one of her blockbusters will not please those folk who like to gaze at the pretty cottages on Midsomer Murders or the 1920s fashions on Marple.

It's an unflinching take on the world of nasty men, prostitutes, abused women and rotten coppers. If DCI Barnaby or Hercule Poirot stumbled into Cole's world, they would get a knife across the face, a knee in the balls and flung into the gutter – probably by one of the women.

Jack O'Connell as Eamonn
Cathy and Eamonn are childhood sweethearts, but there's nothing sweet about their upbringing under the roof of her prostitute mother, Madge (Kierston Wareing), and if anyone has a heart it's very dark.

Joanna Vanderham
'I love you, Cathy,' says Eamonn, played by Jack O'Connell (Skins). 'I'll make you happy, I promise,' he says, before making her cry after crudely taking her virginity. Then he cries, and she forgives him. Everyone hurts the one they love.

Cole's characters are selfish, cruel, gutsy, contradictory, but somehow believable. 'I know I'm a shit mother, but I love you,' says Madge in a typically paradoxical moment.

The world in The Runaway is unsentimental and rough, and if you've ever wondered what gangsters and armed robbers are really like, then this seems a plausible portrayal of the criminal breed.

'You're going away'
Cathy, played by Joanna Vanderham in her debut role, finds herself in the frame for murdering one of her mother's vile punters, before a detective played by Burn Gorman (a long way from Lark Rise here) frames someone else for the crime – 'You're going away because I've made up my mind.'

Keith Allen, Jack O'Connell, Joanna Vanderham, Alan Cumming and Ken Stott
Meanwhile, Eamonn, who we first see spraying another man's blood round the boxing ring, is making a violent reputation for himself while trying to join the local 'firm' run by a badly bewigged Keith Allen. Cathy ends up running away to Soho after being taken into care.

The action is set to shift to their adult lives as the East End kids grow into adults. They are drawn back together and survive in the London underworld of the 70s, before Eamonn eventually flees to New York.

Alan Cumming
I've only seen the opener and so missed the return of Alan Cumming in his first British TV role for 15 years, as the transvestite Desrae, who befriends Cathy. Ken Stott will also crop up. On the basis of ep1, The Runaway offers a punch to the solar plexus of TV crime drama that adds something fresh and distinctive.

The Runaway is grittier than most UK crime shows
So many crime dramas these days are either forensic porn, detective-and-sidekick yarns or costume series, such as Inspector George Gently and Marple. It's shrewd of Sky1 to continue doing something different following last year's The Take and Thorne. The channel is certainly offering crime drama that is more edgy than the Beeb and ITV.

And it was daring of them to pluck 19-year-old Joanna Vanderham from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama for her first starring role. Despite being called on to play plenty of emotionally charged moments, and the odd nude scene, the debutant comes through with credit. And in case you're wondering, she's not a Cockney but a Scot, from Perth.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Stephen Booth: Third Degree

Award-winning crime author Stephen Booth has written 11 mysteries involving the detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry with a distinctive, sometimes menacing Peak District setting. He was a newspaper and magazine journalist for 25 years before publishing the first Cooper/Fry novel, Black Dog, in 2000. crimetimepreview quizzed him about his criminal viewing activities… 

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

New Tricks. Some great character actors in that cast. Or perhaps Life on Mars, for the same reason.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

Law & Order: Criminal Intent with Vincent D'Onofrio.

Top TV cop?

It's a difficult one. But for sheer longevity without losing my interest, I would have to say Inspector Frost

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?

Stuart Pawson's Inspector Charlie Priest series has been overlooked for too long.

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?

There are no actors who exactly fit my picture of Ben Cooper or Diane Fry. But readers often write to tell me who they visualise when they're reading the books. Usually, their ideas are quite different from mine! But I don't mind – in fact, I like people to interpret the characters in their own way. Any TV or film adaptation would involve someone else's interpretation of Ben or Diane, of course. And, as long as the actors do a good job, that's fine by me.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience?

Some of the shows which I know are complete fantasy, like CSI or Waking the Dead. I watch them the way I would a science fiction  series – with a massive suspension of disbelief! But it's fun to go along for the ride.

Least favourite cop show/thrillers?

I was very disappointed in the Wycliffe series, based on the books by W. J. Burley. I liked the books, but on screen the central character of Wycliffe became rather unpleasant and creepy.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

I've never seen The Sopranos, which I know puts me in a tiny minority. So it would have to be The Wire.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock. He's a much more complex and flawed character.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Oh, definitely the Swedish version with Krister Henriksson. I really believe in him as Wallander. Kenneth Branagh has never convinced me – nor does Rolf Lassgård in the earlier Swedish version.

US or British television crime dramas?

British, as long as they're well scripted and properly cast. There's a lot of stuff that isn't.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

Peter Robinson, John Harvey, Reginald Hill, Ruth Rendell… and a whole lot more. Among US writers, the top man is Michael Connelly.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author

Douglas Adams. I once signed a few copies of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on his behalf. He was dead by then, so I didn't think he would mind.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?


You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?

Well, none of those out-of-control drunks with personality disorders, thank you very much! I'd want someone I could trust to do a really good job. Like, say… Jules Maigret. He'd be about 130 years old now, though.

Stephen's latest Cooper and Fry mystery, The Devil's Edge, is published in the UK on 7 April. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Waking the Dead series 9 PREVIEW

Grace, Spence, Boyd, Eve and Sarah. Pic: BBC
Rating ★★★

BBC1,  Harbinger Part 1 Sunday, 13 March, 9pm; Part 2 Monday, 14 March 9pm

This is the final series for Det Supt Peter Boyd and his Cold Case Unit. They were at the cutting edge of the boom in the genre of forensic crime shows when the series launched in 2000, the same year as CSI in the US. Since then, there has been 92 hours of primetime viewing, with the highest viewed episode bagging 9.5 million viewers. 2004 was its finest hour, with Waking the Dead taking an International Emmy for the Multi-storey episode, starring Sean Pertwee.

Harbinger is a typically opaque two-parter, sparked by the discovery of a wrecked car, found in woods, that once belonged to a banker called Donald Rees. He went missing in 2007. Boyd, as ever played by Trevor Eve, takes the case to help a family that seems cursed. Having lost a daughter to cancer and suffered Donald's disappearance, the mother, Julie, then developed cancer too. Despite DI Jordan being told by Julie's son that his mother also thinks he has a mystery illness, it takes the team a long time to work out what's going on.

Ghostly red-herrings
Written by Ed Whitmore, who's had some major dramas on ITV recently, including The Little House with Francesca Annis and Identity with Keeley Hawes, this episode throws in some near-supernatural moments among the red-herrings, with the family seeing what appear to have been ghostly apparitions.

An old couple, the Geigers, are suspected of blackmailing Rees, and perhaps murdering him. There's a mysterious nurse and the murder of a WPC to deal with before Boyd and co start to see the pattern in what is a satisfactory opening mystery.

Tara Fitzgerald's new series, The Body Farm
So will Waking the Dead be missed? Well, die-hard fans  have the spin-off forensic six-part drama The Body Farm to look forward to. Tara Fitzgerald's character, Eve Lockhart, will return to conduct experimental procedures on dead bodies, the trend for cop shows morphing into Hammer Horrors showing no signs of fading out yet. Trevor Eve will not appear, but will co-produce.

As for the current series, this has probably run its course. It's a shame Waking the Dead never used the fine actors it has to portray beefier characters. Boyd's 'character' is that he can be rude and shouts a bit. Most of the time he and the team just mouth plot summaries, with Tara Fitzgerald having a really dry time reciting lines about 'polymeric forms of paint additive'.

Good cast wasted
Harbinger introduces a promising new character, Sarah Cavendish (Eva Birthistle), who is foisted on Boyd. The same rank as Boyd, she was a brilliant counter-intell officer who has issues, but after some early sparks between her and the team, this storyline is forgotten and it's back to murder and mayhem.

Her character may be developed later, but Waking the Dead is the kind of show where the mystery is always the star. And there's a lot of plot and mystery to keep our attention – with seven grim murders in Harbinger – but the characters once again rarely grab us.

It's been lurid and fun at times, but it's unlikely there will be many wailing mourners for Waking the Dead.

Trevor Eve (Det Supt Peter Boyd), Sue Johnston (Dr Grace Foley), Tara FitzGerald (Eve Lockhart), Wil Johnson (DI Spencer Jordan), Eva Birthistle (Det Supt Sarah Cavendish), Charles Edwards (Donald Rees), Genevieve O'Reilly (Julie Rees), Amelda Brown (Elsa Geiger), Ian Hanmore (Ernst Geiger), Stacey Sampson (WPC Gina Allen)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Why The Killing is the best thing on television – 10 reasons

Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl), non-confrontational but very strong. Pics: BBC
The Killing is tucked away on BBC4 (Saturdays 9pm), but don't underestimate this Danish cult hit – it's the best series currently on TV.

1 Sarah Lund
Actress Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah Lund (above), a deputy superintendent with Copenhagen police, has become something of an icon across Europe – and it's not just because of her jumper, which is now a fashion must-have. She is the antithesis of most female cops on TV – no suit, no ball-busting bust-ups with male colleagues, and she's not a dolly or glam in the mould of Anna Travis (Above Suspicion) or Marg Helgenberger (CSI). She is low-key and shrewd, and while non-confrontational she remains a very strong personality. When her colleague, the un-subtle Meyer (Søren Malling), says to her, 'You owe me an explanation,' she just walks away. So, that will be a no then, Meyer. The camera often simply focuses on her eyes, and we sense her mind moving way ahead of her colleagues'.

2 Better than most Brit/US shows
For depth of character and storytelling honesty, The Killing is up there with the best US shows, such as The Wire and The Sopranos. When it comes to the procedural stuff – CSI, Law & Order, Silent Witness – or the pretty postcard mysteries made in the UK – Marple, Midsomer Murders, Inspector George Gently – oh, please, let's draw a veil over such non-comparisons.

3 Good whodunnit
Liable to spark lengthy debates on the front-room sofa – was Nanna's killer a psychopath, her teacher, boyfriend, or part of a political conspiracy? When the series was originally shown in Denmark in 2007, large bets were placed on the perpetrator's identity.

4 Better than a whodunnit
But it's so much more than a whodunnit. The power of the series is the brilliantly drawn, complex characters, who can make bad choices or lie but never lose our empathy. 

5 Focus on relationships
The ever-watchful Sarah Lund
Most crime dramas lack any emotional pull because the victim is treated indifferently, as a device to kick-off the plot. How often do such shows start with grumpy detectives turning up a murder scene, where the victim is showcased in all their gore, and then virtually forgotten. In The Killing the murder of student Nanna Birk Larsen reverberates through the whole series, it's impact on her family being portrayed with respect and painful honesty. And the relationships shift – Lund and Meyer, with all the pace of a glacial thaw, gradually form an unlikely partnership.

6 No ludicrous plot shifts
No, it's not likely that Lund's colleague Meyer will turn out to be a bent cop turned nutty killer who frames her, or that Lund will form an alliance with a serial killer (why does the BBC's Luther come to mind here?).

7 Multi-strand storylines brilliantly juggled 
Where most British series focus solely on the investigation and the cops, The Killing superbly interweaves Lund's tangled relationship with her mother, son and lover, a political election and all its dirty tricks, police department power games, and the ongoing, heartbreaking trauma for Nanna's family. 

8 Atmospheric
Forest, rainy nights and sombre interiors. 

9 Beautifully paced 
We've all seen those series that are desperate to stop us turning over, with three murders and/or several dismembered corpses before the first ad break. The Killing savours every scene, devoting one episode to each day of the 20-day investigation.

Bjarne Henriksen as Theis
10 Tremendous performances
If any actor can convey more anguish with the blink of an eye than Bjarne Henriksen as Nanna's rough-diamond dad, Theis, then please fill out the comment box below. Theis and his wife, Pernille (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen), are the soul of the series. Lars Mikkelsen as the mayoral candidate under suspicion, Troels Hartmann, is moving. Any actor who can make us feel for a politician has to be a marvel.

Friday, 4 March 2011

• Crime Zapper – Whitechapel, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher •

News that ITV has commissioned a third series of Whitechapel for 2012 brings to mind images of the network trying to flog a dead nag back to life.

Come on, guys. The first outing in which Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis as mismatched cop colleagues investigated a Jack the Ripper copycat killer in London’s East End was distinctive and pretty decent. Resurrecting the Kray era for a second series was pushing it.

But the idea of the police investigating three further historic wannabe murderers is stretching a quirky idea to snapping point. The new six-part series will tell three stories going back 300 years, covering murder in tunnels under Whitechapel, body-snatching and poisonings.

The East End is clearly fertile ground for the imaginations of writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip, and the previous two series were evocative wallows in the area’s seedy past. But to swallow a story in which present-day investigators continue to stumble on crimes that are spookily mirroring ancient misdeeds will require us to not so much suspend disbelief as lobotomise it.

ITV obviously points to the ratings, with series two averaging 6.5 million viewers. Executive Producer, Sally Woodward Gentle, says, 'If you thought the Ripper and Krays were scary, just wait.'

Personally, I'm looking forward more to ITV1's other historical mystery drama, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.

Speaking of which, the British Film Institute is previewing ITV's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher on 12 April. The drama is based on Kate Summerscale's award-winning non-fiction bestseller about a fascinating Victorian murder mystery. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with its director, James Hawes, adapter Neil McKay and cast members. Tickets go on sale 15 March.