Saturday, 30 June 2012

Wallander: An Event in Autumn starring Kenneth Branagh PREVIEW

Kenneth Branagh returns as Wallander. Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: Sunday, 8 July, 9pm

Story: A young pregnant woman is seen plunging from a ferry travelling from Poland to Sweden. As Kurt Wallander is summoned to inspect her remains found on a beach, a death closer to home soon comes to haunt him.

You have to marvel at Kurt Wallander's rotten luck. Not exactly the laughing policeman at the best of times, the glum one has no sooner found himself a lovely country retreat to share with the new woman in his life than a corpse turns up in his garden.

'Is this fate?' he moans. Of course it is, Kurt. The gods – or author Henning Mankell – are going to put you through the emotional wringer again. And in this opening first of three atmospheric films, Wallander is literally reduced to tears.

Saskia Reeves as Vanja
At least the forensic pathologist retains his sense of humour. Having studied the human remains in Wallander's garden, he says, 'Thought you were trying not to take your work home with you.'

Missing women and prostitution
Saskia Reeves appeared as Vanja in the last story we saw, 2010's The Fifth Woman, and here the relationship has moved on encouragingly for Kurt, so much so that she and her young son are helping the detective settle into his country idyll.

However, Wallander is soon pulled away into a dispiriting investigation involving missing women and prostitution. Kenneth Branagh returns to his lead role as Wallander, a part that's already won him a Bafta, and he has a real feel for the character, playing him with bottled-up emotions and a decency that makes him hugely appealing.

As Wallander and Ann-Britt Hoglund try to trace missing women who may be the body in the garden, they have a confrontation with the vile Petrus, who keeps vicious dogs and has probably been prostituting his own daughters. It is little wonder that Wallander's need to reconcile such experiences with the normality hoped for by Vanja seem doomed.

Hitchcockian murder in the woods
Petrus taunts Wallander
The BBC and ITV are often criticised these days for a lack of ambition, with acclaim continuing to be lavished on HBO series from the US and Nordic noir from Sweden and Denmark, but while the Beeb's Wallander still can't match the 20 episodes devoted to The Killing, each story is beautifully filmed and directed (this first one by Toby Haynes).

An Event in Autumn is an engrossing and chilling opener, complete with a rural stalker, local oddball neighbour and an almost Hitchcockian murder in a country lane two thirds of the way through. Along with Line of Duty, it shows the BBC's summer drama may be small scale, but the quality is superb.

Cast: Kenneth Branagh Kurt Wallander, Saskia Reeves Vanja Andersson, Sarah Smart Ann-Britt Hoglund, Donald Sumpter Fredrik Thorson, Con O'Neill Jan Petrus, Claire Hackett Eva Petrus, Mark Hadfield Stefan Lindeman, Barnaby Kay Lennart Mattson, Rebekah Staton Kristina Albinsson


Friday, 29 June 2012

Wallander returns in July

Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) and Ann-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart). Pic: BBC/Left Bank

The third series of Kenneth Branagh's Wallander is back on BBC1 on Sunday, 8 July. The first of three investigations based on the stories of Swedish author Henning Mankell, An Event in Autumn, will get the season rolling. Kurt is seeking a new life in the countryside, only to find a corpse buried at the back of his garden… No wonder he's always a bit glum. CrimeTimePreview will have a full preview of the opener tomorrow. In the meantime, who is the best Wallander ever? Comments below, please…
  • Swedish TV's Krister Henriksson
  • Swedish mini series' Rolf Lassgård
  • BBC's Kenneth Branagh

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Case Sensitive series 2, starring Olivia Williams PREVIEW

Darren Boyd and Olivia Williams as Waterhouse and Zailer. Pics: ITV
Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV1: Thursday, 12 July, 9pm

Story: Teacher Ruth Blacksmith has left her husband, Jason, for troubled musician Aidan. Jason has gone into an alcoholic decline, losing his job at the same school as his wife. Ruth wants a divorce and is looking forward to a new life with Aidan, until the love triangle results in murder.

The good news for anyone who enjoyed the first series of Case Sensitive is that Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd are back as Zailer and Waterhouse. The bad news is that there is just one two-part story to feast on.

The two detectives feature in the acclaimed psychological suspense novels of Sophie Hannah, and her story The Other Half Lives is the basis for this new mini – or should that be micro? – series.

Tormented love twisted into obsession is the theme here, as teacher Ruth is involved in a passionate affair with Aidan, a piano teacher who is a gifted pianist on the quiet. The trouble is that the husband Ruth is divorcing to be with Aidan – Jason – has just turned up stabbed to death.

Charlie lets off steam at a kick-boxing class
Love is in the air
Initially, Aidan and Ruth's plight is a little hard to empathise with. He is a bit cold and creepy, and she seems impulsive and ditzy. However, the skill in the storytelling opens up new dimensions to the characters and their pasts that make this a tragic, sensitive mystery.

But the two-parter's most intriguing storyline is actually what is going on between colleagues DS Charlie Zailer and DC Simon Waterhouse. Love, or lust, is in the air, as signified by the fact that the pair is constantly covering up the tension between them by talking testily at cross purposes, and that Zailer is primed to chew out any young female she spots talking to her deputy – watch out, DC Amber Williams.

Charlie's lack of reason is a nice counterpoint to the jealousy or possessiveness that has led to Jason's murder. By the end of the drama, viewers will certainly want to know what will happen next between the two detectives.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Third Degree: Zoë Sharp, creator of the Charlie Fox thrillers

Zoë Sharp wrote her first novel when she was 15. It was not until 2001, however, after she had tried her hand at jobs ranging from van driver to newspaper ad sales to motoring correspondent, that she finally publisher her breakout Charlie Fox novel Killer Instinct. Fox, the self-defence instructor with a shady military background, has proved hugely popular with readers through nine novels and has been optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV. We brought Zoë in for questioning to see who she would like to see playing Charlie on screen, and what TV shows tick the right boxes for her…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
First of all, I should declare that I don’t have ‘proper’ telly. My TV set is just a monitor connected to a DVD player, so in order to watch something I have to have heard enough good reports to go out and buy the series on DVD. There have been quite a few I’ve bought and either watched one series but not been inspired to rush back for the rest, or that I’ve given up on part-way through.

I suppose of recent stuff it has to be Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role as the modern-day Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson. I enjoyed the stylish series about professional con artists, Hustle, and going back years I used to be a huge fan of The Professionals. I also thought The Fixer with Andrew Buchan as government-sanctioned assassin John Mercer, and Vincent with Ray Winstone as the titular private detective, were both very good, but only lasted two short seasons. I LOVED the adaptations the BBC did of three Lord Peter Wimsey stories in the 1980s (which I re-watched recently) with Edward Petherbridge as Wimsey and Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock. Pic: BBC

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles vie for the top spot, along with Human Target, about ex-assassin turned protector Christopher Chance. The original CSI is always entertaining, although I giggle at the procedure. [That’s what I refer to as ‘CSI Classic’ (Las Vegas) rather than ‘CSI Lite’ (Miami) or ‘CSI Dark’ (New York)] I’m currently watching the second series of Lie To Me with Tim Roth as Dr Cal Lightman, human lie-detector, which is pretty good, but is it strictly crime? Oh, and I saw the first series of Justified about US Marshal Raylan Givens with Timothy Olyphant—excellent stuff!

Of made-for-TV movies – do they count? – the best has to be the Jesse Stone adaptations of Robert B Parker’s series about the police chief of small New England town Paradise, with Tom Selleck in the title role. Beautifully shot, beautifully scored, and acted with superb understated skill, although only the first few were scripted by Parker himself and I think you can really tell when someone else takes over.
Top TV cop?
Hmm, got to be Sherlock Holmes again, I think, in any of his incarnations. I used to watch reruns of the old black-and-white Basil Rathbone versions, although Nigel Bruce played Watson as such a bumbler. The Jeremy Brett series was excellent, but the current modern setting is extremely well done.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
Quintin Jardine’s series about tough Edinburgh cop Bob Skinner is one of my favourites. Or JD Robb’s futuristic series about New York detective Lt Eve Dallas. (Because I guess I’m not allowed to nominate my own Charlie Fox series, although it was optioned by Twentieth-Century Fox TV…?)

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?
I’d love the British actress who narrates my UK audiobook versions to be considered—Clare Corbett. I’ve really got used to hearing her voice as Charlie. But I thought Natalie Tena (Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter films) would be excellent, or Kate Beckinsale (particularly liked her in the Underworld films). And I recently saw Haywire with mixed martial arts champion Gina Carano in her first movie role, and she would kick some serious arse as Charlie. But the truth is, because the books are written in first-person—and therefore I look out through Charlie’s eyes all the time—I see the other characters in more detail than my main protagonist. I always describe her fairly lightly, so readers can picture her inside their own minds.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Justified 3 – Slaughterhouse, starring Timothy Olyphant. Don't miss it!

Best of enemies – Walton Goggins as Boyd and Timothy Olyphant as Raylan
Rating: ★★★★½ 

5USA: Wednesday, 20 June, 9pm

It's sad that Justified doesn't have a really big rep in the UK. Series three is about to wrap on 5USA with an explosive finale that, while full of bangs, will pass most viewers with not even a whimper.

The episode is called Slaughterhouse and, yes, the title is justified. Because during the previous 13 weeks some very nasty characters have been dancing round each other and the music is about to stop.

Timothy Olyphant as US Marshal Raylan Givens has again been superb but, as is often the way in crime stories dreamt up by brilliant Elmore Leonard, it has been the evildoers that have stuck in our mind during this series.

Boyd Crowder, Limehouse and Quarles
Money men – Limehouse and Quarles
Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder has again been the slick schemer without ever managing to make it big as a crime boss in his home town of Harlan, Kentucky. Mykelti Williamson has been menacing as a true power in the neighbourhood, Ellstin Limehouse, usually wielding a chopper on the carcass of some unfortunate hog.

Jere Burns as Wynn Duffy has been a particularly slippery operator, but it is Neal McDonough as creepy psycho Quarles who has stolen the show. A sexual predator who is sadistic and odd in equal measure with his Midwich Cuckoo looks, he will present the biggest threat to Raylan in the final showdown – and that's after the Marshal has hit Limehouse in his own compound.

Look out for Justified series four
The one omission for this superb series, which is probably the freshest, wittiest and most richly charactered crime series on UK telly right now, is that Winona (Natalie Zea), who will soon have Raylan's child, has been so estranged from the trigger-happy Marshal that we've hardly seen her.

Channel 5 – 5USA's parent channel – has been sitting on a gem of a drama with Justified. If they get round to showing series four, they might want to try blowing their publicity trumpet about it to let viewers know it's on.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Line of Duty starring Lennie James PREVIEW

Line of Duty: DCI James, DS Arnott and DC Fleming. Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★★

BBC2: starts Tuesday, 26 June, 9pm

Story: Steve Arnott is a young officer who's fallen foul of his superiors for refusing to help in the cover-up of an operation that ended in the shooting of an innocent father. He seems ideal to join AC-12, an anti-corruption police unit, just as it starts to investigate Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates, the regional force's Officer of the Year.

Dodgy cops and a public cheated of decent policing are the themes of this bold and tense new thriller. An intelligent, gripping drama that delves into the reality of modern policing is long overdue.

Lennie James plays DCI Tony Gates, a Jag-driving, highly commended detective with a complicated professional and private life. Adrian Dunbar is the 'zealot' anti-corruption cop, Superintendent Hastings, who suspects that Gates' glowing record and outstanding clear-up rate is not all it's cracked up to be.

Fleming wants to join the 'big, sexy' crime squad
He drafts in young DS Steve Arnott, played by Martin Compston – who has refused his previous boss's order to help cover-up police failings that resulted in the killing of an innocent man – to join his crusade against bent coppers. Trouble is, Steve is not sure Gates is up to no good. When Hastings cites Gates for not reporting a free restaurant meal he accepted, Arnott's belief that Hastings is just picking on a good officer seems to be confirmed.

Vicky McClure as DC Fleming
Writer/producer Jed Mercurio deftly and quickly establishes a murky and troubling depiction of modern coppering, with characters treading a fine line between getting the job done and breaking the rules.

His story introduces us to the practice of 'laddering', or cherry-picking easy cases, then adding a series of bogus charges that never make it to court but boost an officer's clear-up figures. And we also see DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) being ordered to 'prioritise' – pursue two out of three cases, while downgrading a third that can't be resolved quickly.

What makes the drama captivating is that there are so many grey areas around the characters, particularly Gates. He disarms a thug trying to mug a young mother, but also helps his girlfriend (Gina McKee) to dodge a drink-driving rap, which he doesn't realise is actually a hit-and-run killing.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Hit & Miss gets better and better; crime events in Edinburgh and Harrogate

Hit & Miss: Ben, John, Eddie, Mia, Levi, Ryan, Riley and Leonie. Pics: Sky Atlantic
Ben (Jonas Armstrong) intervenes when the kids attack the hermit
• The fourth episode of Hit & Miss this Tuesday (12 June, Sky Atlantic, 10pm) continues to startle with its twists, brutality and tenderness. The hermit who's been spying on the smallholding finally comes out of hiding when little Leonie is home alone, Mia's penchant for violence and vengeance along with her novice parenting skills are exposed, and vile John is going off the rails in his craving to get Mia. The drama is bolder and brassier than anything else on TV right now. The northern setting is wild and stunning, instead of cloyingly twee as in so many mainstream UK crime shows, and the transsexual contract killer Mia (Chloe Sevigny) is a surreal combo of male/female, killer/parent, mum/dad. For all its chilling violence and nastiness (Vincent Regan as John can rarely have played such a brutal character), Hit & Miss has a big heart, with family and love as its core themes. And the performances have been excellent, particularly from the young actors – Jorden Bennie, Karla Crome, Reece Noi and Roma Christensen. Brilliant soundtrack too – a toe-tapping version of Beautiful Tomorrow by Beth Rowley kicks this episode off. Hats off to creator Paul Abbott, writer Sean Conway and to Sky Atlantic for making a series that's so distinctive and fresh.

• Nordic and Scottish crime fiction are being celebrated at the Edinburgh Festival this month. The event has been developed by Edinburgh University students, and is called Midnight Sun at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. It sounds like a convivial get-together, which will culminate in a screening of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 film Insomnia. On Thursday, 21st June, Midnight Sun will take  advantage of the summer solstice to delve into our fascination with Nordic noir within a Scottish context. Proceedings begin with a drinks reception at the Point Hotel’s Sky Bar at 8pm, where guests will be able to enjoy complimentary Scandinavian canapés surrounded by panoramic views of Edinburgh’s skyline. Then Scottish crime writer Lin Anderson will whet the audience’s appetite for the screening of the moody Norwegian noir Insomnia by drawing comparisons between Scottish and Scandinavian traditions. What's not to like?

Luther comes under the spotlight at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival on Saturday, 21 July. Neil Cross, who wrote the BBC1 crime series starring Idris Elba, will be discussing the drama alongside cast members Michael Smiley (Benny) and Warren Brown (Ripley), as well producer Claire Bennett and police adviser Simon Morgan.

• Euro 2012 is currently filling the TV schedules and sucking in audiences. While the channels are definitely not risking new dramas against all the sport this summer, they are wheeling out some old lags. Next week you can see repeats of Agatha Christie's Poirot (Cat Among the Pigeons, ITV1, Saturday, 16 June, 8pm); Inspector Lynley Mysteries (BBC1, Sunday, 17 June, 8.30pm); Inspector George Gently (BBC1, Tuesday 12 June, 8.30pm); and Midsomer Murders (ITV1, Wednesday 14 June, 8pm).

Pic right: ITV

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Copper – BBC America's first original drama launches this summer

August will see the launch of BBC America's first original drama, a 10-part period crime drama called Copper.

Set in 1860s New York, it immediately brings to mind Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York as it too features the city's infamous Five Points neighbourhood. Here, though, the story follows Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones, who starred in the Beeb's Spooks, or MI-5 as it's called Stateside). He's described as an 'intense, rugged Irish-American cop' who is struggling to maintain his moral compass while trying to discover the truth about the disappearance of his wife and the death of his daughter.

Corcoran teams up with two Civil War compatriots – the son of an industrialist, who secretly helps the copper with his detective work, and an African-American physician. The trio is inextricably linked by their battlefield experiences.

BBC America is best known as the US outlet for various UK shows, such as Luther, Whitechapel, Inside Men and Top Gear. So this 19th-century drama is a bold move that looks pretty enticing, particularly with Barry Levinson as exec producer. The series has been created by Emmy-winner Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Streets, St Elsewhere).

It will go out in the US on BBC America on Sunday, 19 August, at 9pm (ET/PT). UK viewers will have to wait for a BBC show for once.

The rest of the cast: Franka Potente (The Bourne Supremacy) as Eva Heissen, a shrewd businesswoman and the madam of Eva’s Paradise; Kyle Schmid (Blood Ties, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) as Robert Morehouse, a handsome bon vivant and part of Manhattan aristocracy; Anastasia Griffith (Royal Pains, Damages) as the spirited Elizabeth Haverford; Ato Essandoh (Damages) as Doctor Matthew Freeman, who secretly assists Corcoran with his work; Kevin Ryan (Tripping Tommy) as Detective Francis Maguire, Corcoran’s closet friend and partner in the 6th Precinct; Dylan Taylor (Covert Affairs) as Andrew O’Brien, colleague and companion to Corcoran and Maguire; Ron White (The Line) as Captain Ciaran Joseph Sullivan, who is more often concerned about his reputation than seeking justice for victims; Kiara Glasco (Angel Duty) as Annie Reilly, a young runaway; Tessa Thompson (Heroes) as Sara Freeman, the fearful wife of Dr Freeman; and David W. Keeley (Rookie Blue) as Sergeant Padraic Byrnes, a corrupt cop.

Pic: BBC America

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Lewis – still fit for duty?

Kevin Whately as Lewis in series finale The Indelible Stain. Pics: ITV
Script developer Charlotte Biermann investigates ITV1's latest series of Lewis…

Last episode of the season, The Indelible Stain, is on ITV1, Wednesday 6 June, 8pm

The sixth series of Lewis returned amid a hiatus; before the first episode had even aired the creator of its forefather, Inspector Morse,  provocatively stated in a Radio Times interview that he did not think Lewis 'can go on much longer', which promptly forced ITV’s hand to retort that it remained 'committed' to the show. So, of course, the question is being asked: Is Lewis’s time coming to an end?

David Soul guest stars in 'The Indelible Stain'
The current series has been inconsistent. After Colin Dexter’s heralded doom, the first episode – The Soul of Genius – with its theme based on Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, seemed to strike back. With strong, and at times witty, writing that tightened the almost father/son relationship of Lewis and Hathaway and with a delightfully self-conscious Hathaway being awkwardly seduced, it was a joy to watch.

Third episode of Lewis was disappointing
Then came the second, Generation of Vipers, which continued the literary theme with Troilus and Cressida and the (un)romantic theme of our leading men, albeit in a more subtle manner. However the overall story was not quite as tight and did leave a few 'hang on a minute…' questions in its wake.

Sadly, episode three, Fearful Symmetry, while obviously taking its title from Blake’s poem The Tiger, failed to keep ‘the ball up in the air’ so to speak. It was disappointing in that the investigation hinged on a soft toy and failed to fully intertwine all the strands; instead, it lazily gave the perpetrator a mental illness that came out of the blue at last minute.

To use Dexter’s own words it was 'not up to scratch'.