Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Crime Stories ITV1 – rubbish or riveting?

Ben Hull as DS Ben Shaw and Jane Antrobus as DI Jane Preston. Pic: ITV
Crime Stories, ITV1's new daytime improvised drama (weekdays, 2pm), is certainly dividing opinions. According to comments on the CrimeTimePreview piece below, these range from 'dross' and the 'poorest ever police style programme' to Jane Antrobus's 'acting has been first class'. Strong views are everywhere on this show, even in today's Guardian, which has an interesting article about it. This asks whether the series, for all its faults – 'ropey', 'risible', 'boring' – should also be applauded for blazing a trail for a new kind of quickly produced, inexpensive drama that could yet find its way to producing riveting stories. And Crime Stories is doing reasonably well in the ratings – 900,000 viewers.

So, come on. Who's watching it? And what do you think?

Doors Open starring Stephen Fry, Douglas Henshall, ITV1 PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★½ 

: Boxing Day, 9pm

Story: After an evening’s drinking with Professor Gissing, an art expert, and banker Allan Cruickshank, self-made millionaire Mike McKenzie and his friends dream up a plot to rip-off one of the most high-profile targets in the country – Edinburgh’s private art collection owned by a national bank.

If Doors Open were an album, it would be an easy-listening release – pleasant, amusing and fairly slick.

So, this is an amiable two hours, with Stephen Fry, Douglas Henshall and Lenora Crichlow as the lead crooners in a heist drama, based on Ian Rankin’s 2008 novel.

It’s good to see Fry stepping away from his gadgets and QI to play what he would surely have become had he not been seduced by showbiz – a professor.

Art expert Prof Gissing sees himself as ‘more an elitist than a snob’, and it’s a role that's barely a stretch for Fry. Gissing is the prime mover among a group of friends who decide to take a walk on the wild side and rip off valuable works of art during Edinburgh’s Doors Open day.

Ian Rankin and Stephen Fry on set
Douglas Henshall and Lenora Crichlow
This is an occasion when landmark buildings open their doors to the public and invite them to look round areas that are usually off-limits. A gallery's warehouse housing a bank's  collection of masterpieces is the trio's target, with the plan being to replace the originals with forgeries.

Each member of the threesome has a reason to snatch a picture. Gissing is outraged that the collection he has made for the bank is now being sold from under him, so he wants to ‘liberate’ some artworks.

Selfmade millionaire Mike (Douglas Henshall, soon to be seen in new detective drama Shetland) is losing the woman (Lenora Crichlow) and the painting he loves to the man responsible for selling the bank’s collection, Bruce Cameron. He’s not prepared to have both swiped from him. And Allan (Kenneth Collard) has been sacked by the bank.

Gangster Charlie Calloway (Brian McCardie)
The plot is stirred nicely when Mike suggests they link up with Charlie Calloway, a gangster with whom he was at school. It’s a mighty risk – and provides complications galore, particularly as Charlie wants a painting of his own to pay off a debt to Mr Big – but Charlie has the muscle and know-how to help these amateurs.

Monday, 26 November 2012

WIN! Two copies of New Tricks series 9 on Blu-ray

The latest series of New Tricks, which has just recently finished on BBC1, was another big hit for the popular drama focusing on the UCOS squad of cold case retirees, played by Dennis Waterman, Alun Armstrong and James Bolam, and led by Amanda Redman. It was also a moment of change in a show that's been running since 2003, because it saw James Bolam retiring from the unit for real, and being replaced by Denis Lawson, who plays DI Steve McAllister.

CrimeTimePreview has two copies of the new Blu-ray of series 9 to give away. The two-disc set features all 10 episodes of the series, with special features including a behind-the-scenes film.

TO ENTER: Just become a follower of CrimeTimePreview – see the panel, right. All new followers from today will be entered into a draw, with two lucky winners drawn at random. Rules: There are no alternatives to the prizes. Closing date: Saturday, 1 December, midnight. Open to UK residents only. Prizes will be posted to winners asap. No responsibility will be accepted for prizes lost, delayed or damaged or damaged in post. Prize draw not open to friends, relatives, associates of CrimeTimePreview. Entrants must be aged 15+.

The Poison Tree ITV1 with MyAnna Buring, Matthew Goode PREVIEW

Nowhere to hide? MyAnna Buring as Karen in The Poison Tree. Pics: ITV
Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV1: starts Monday, 10 December, 9pm 

Story: Karen Clarke has spent 12 years waiting for her partner, Rex, to be released from prison. Now he is free, she is looking forward to settling down to normal family life – but suddenly she feels she is being stalked…

Based on a novel by Erin Kelly (which was highly praised by Stephen King), The Poison Tree is a two-part family thriller revolving around buried secrets gradually being forced to the surface.

Karen and Biba
Karen and her teenage daughter, Alice, greet Rex on his release from prison after he's done 12 years inside. She's looking forward to starting a new family life with her partner, determined that they should keep from Alice the secret of their past and the events leading to Rex's imprisonment.

Karen also covers for Rex's absence by telling the neighbours near their small seaside bungalow that he's been away working.

Partying, drugs and an unhappy childhood
Through a series of flashbacks we get clues to the momentous, secret events that forged Karen and Rex's relationship. Karen actually met Rex's damaged sister Biba first, when she and Rex were living a hedonistic life in their own grand house.

At the time, 1999, Karen was a mousey languages student, while Biba was a flamboyant art student. However, behind the partying and drugs lay an unhappy childhood for the siblings, with their rich businessman dad, Max, being unfaithful to his wife, who was suicidal over his antics.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Jack Taylor: The Guards starring Iain Glen C5 PREVIEW

Jack Taylor looks for a missing daughter in Galway. Pics: Channel 5
Rating: ★★★★

Channel 5: starts Thursday, 21 February, 9pm

Story: Beautiful Anne Henderson comes into Jack´s local pub and asks him to find her missing daughter. Before long, former cop Jack is submerged in the grimy secret lives of Galway´s outwardly respectable middle class citizens. 

News that Irish author Ken Bruen’s terrific series of books about former Galway cop Jack Taylor were getting the telly treatment may have tempted a few to reach for a beer and chaser. Or several.

Would the drama capture the character’s battered personality, or would he be stripped of everything that makes him compelling – booze, bad attitude and beatings.

Well, Channel 5 is stepping outside of its comfort zone of interminable US buy-ins – The Mentalist, Castle, NCIS, etc – for this series of three Irish acquisitions. And, while not perfect, they take a decent stab at capturing the books’ specialness.

Jack (Iain Glen) and Anne (Tara Breathnach)
Jack Taylor – aka Iain Glen
The opener is based on the first novel, The Guards, introducing us to the bloodyminded, dishevelled, boozy, unshaven Taylor, recently turfed out of the Irish police because ‘I’m risk-taking and don’t kiss arse’.

He gets by as a ‘finder’, and is approached by the Anne Henderson at his local, who asks him to find her daughter.

Iain Glen certainly looks the part of the rundown cop, and while the Scottish actor’s Irish accent is elusive, his trademark low, smooth voice – familiar in everything from Game of Thrones, Prisoners Wives to Downton Abbey – works for the character. And he is versatile and charismatic enough as a performer to win us over as the man battling demons within and without.

With friends like these… Sutton
Taylor's dangerous 'friend' Sutton
Anyway, the bodies of three young women are washed up in the river. The word is suicide, but Jack suspects something more sinister, and Anne Henderson fears her daughter may soon be among them.

Jack teams up with an old paratrooper mate, though, like many boozers, he does not always show good judgement of character. Sutton turns out to be a nasty piece of work who jeopardises Jack’s inquiries with his brutality.

The investigation leads to a factory that illegally employs plenty of young women. It turns into a very dirty business indeed, featuring well-connected people with criminal secrets.

Vivid and tragic anti-hero
TV likes to focus on the plots of crime novels, often discarding interesting characters for the mechanics of whodunit. Ken Bruen’s novels are plot-lite, with digressions and observations from Taylor that make them so vivid and tragic.

Secret State – a thriller that's well worth investigating

Rupert Graves as ruthless minister Felix Durrell
Writer and blogger Pat Nurse checks out C4's Secret State and uncovers a cracking contemporary conspiracy thriller, despite the low ratings

Burned-out images of a small northern town blown up in a petrochemical incident opens new TV political thriller Secret State. The only colour image is that of a child's small woollen glove with tiny hand inside amid the debris, which shows that every political decision affects the lives of ordinary people.

And if we could choose as leader someone like Tom Dawkins, played by Gabriel Byrne, then we probably would. He's a man of integrity who is trying to do the right thing, but the question remains whether he can do so given the machinations of Global Government and Big Business.

  • Secret State episode 3: Channel 4, Wednesday 21 November, 10pm

Secret State is edge-of-the-seat stuff. Tense, gripping, too plausible to be comfortable, but with the added WOW factor of a fast-moving and exciting drama that imagines what might potentially go on behind the scenes when government is faced with a crisis.

Front bench, frontline – Gabriel Byrne as the PM
Viewing figures are reportedly low – just 1.2 million viewers for the opening episode. We don't know whether that's because of recent real life political scandals, that have led to a lack of appetite for dramatic representations of dirty dealings, or whether it's down to the simple fact that there has been little promotion of this excellent series by Channel 4.

A Very British Coup
It's based on former Labour MP Chris Mullin's left wing novel A Very British Coup, but Secret State is not ideologically driven from the left or right, neither are the politicians defined by their party. They are driven by the hopes of the electorate, the restrictions of the system, and their own career ambitions.

But does it contribute to the burgeoning cynicism among the great unwashed that in recent times has been sickened by the actions of their political leaders?

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Fear starring Peter Mullan Ch4 PREVIEW

Red alert for Richie Beckett (Peter Mullan) in The Fear. Pics: C4
Rating: ★★★★ 

Channel 4: starts Monday, 3 December, 10pm  
Eyeball to eyeball with the Albanians

Story: Richie Beckett, former gang boss turned respected Brighton businessman, pledges money to help rebuild a pier. But Richie's mind is in turmoil and the empire he runs with his sons is endangered by a vicious Albanian gang.

Tony Soprano famously suffered panic attacks and had to see a shrink. In C4’s new hard-knuckle crime drama The Fear we have another gang boss whose mind is under assault.

But Richie Beckett’s turmoil is more serious and urgent, because just when his Brighton-based empire is under siege from a gang of Albanian psychos, Richie is starting to lose his identity.

He is suffering from some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s. This would be alarming enough in the new role he has taken on as respectable local businessman, but when his family and interests are suddenly under threat from the vicious newcomers in town, this is calamitous.

Richie with sons Cal and Matty
Grisly killing
Peter Mullan is excellent as the fearsome family head, veering alarmingly between menace and bewilderment. Harry Lloyd and Paul Nicholls are his sons, Matty and Cal, who, along with their mother (Anastasia Hille) think their father is on the booze again.

Cal, the eldest and a creep who revels in his dad’s notoriety, wants to broker some deal with the family of Vajkal, the Albanian guvnor. But the Albanians implicate him in the grisly murder of a prostitute he has used, keeping her beheaded corpse as evidence to incriminate Cal if the Becketts don’t fall into line.

Richie is therefore dragged into a meeting at the Albanians’ farmhouse retreat. Irritable, sleepless, forgetful – Richie can’t even remember battering a young man on the front in broad daylight – his presence at the farmhouse is as sensible as juggling gelignite.

Cal (Paul Nicholls)
Peter Mullan is terrific as a gangster in decline
The Fear is being shown over four consecutive nights and is a bruising but riveting portrait of a criminal in decline, haunted by his past and out of touch with the present. And it's a story with emotion, as in the scene where Richie enters his wife's bedroom and asks if he can lie with her. Amid his confusion and increasing aggression, he seeks some feeling of closeness with his estranged wife.

Brighton is evocatively photographed as a lurid but at the same time genteel backdrop, regency buildings juxtaposed with drag entertainers and night-time revellers.

Writer Richard Cottan has created a rich thriller, though having Richie’s wife buying a couple of paintings called Confusion 1 & 2 was not the most ingenious bit of symbolism.

Still, the opener sets up a drama full of tension and dread, setting in motion what can only be a fearsome, tragic train of events.

Cast: Peter Mullan Richie Bennett, Anastasia Hille Jo Beckett, Harry Lloyd Matty Beckett, Paul Nicholls Cal Beckett, Demosthenes Chrysan Vajkal, Dragos Bucur Marin, Shaban Arifi Davit, Julia Ragnarsson Zana, Danny Sapani Wes

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Killing series three starring Sofie Gråbøl PREVIEW

Sarah Lund at the murder scene that launches the third series. Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★★½ 

BBC4: starts Saturday, 17 November, 9pm 

Story: Detective Sarah Lund has found some peace in the form of a new home, hopefully a move to a less front-line job, and the impending recognition of her 25 years police service. But homicide again gets in the way of her plans…

Sarah Lund returns in the third and final series of the acclaimed Danish crime drama – but with a difference. She's let her hair down, has new jumpers, a garden, is cooking proper meals, and half-smiles at one point.

That the uncommunicative, obsessive detective is trying to reclaim her life will catch her many devotees off-guard. This is the woman whose compulsion in series one to solve the Nanna Birk Larsen case led her to lose sight of her boyfriend and her son.

We get reacquainted with lonesome Lund as she is about to be rewarded for 25 years of police service. So eager is she to pursue some happiness in her personal life that she is trying to get a transfer away from the crime scenes to the analysis department, and also tries to duck out of investigating a mangled body found in a junkyard by the port.
Lund is pushed into investigating by Borch (right)

The audience knows the Lund enigma so well
Then comes a painful scene. Lund has invited her teenage son to dinner with his girlfriend, whom Sarah has never met. She has prepared a meal for the couple, got her new home ready – but then the lad calls to blow her out.

It's sad for Lund, who starts apologising to her boy for having failed occasionally as a mother. But while doing this, she absentmindedly flicks through some crime-scenes photos of a dismembered corpse. A tattoo on a severed arm offers her a clue, and she begins to ignore her son, once again working through the possibilities of this clue.

Sarah Lund is back, her son forgotten again. In a moment, sadness switched to laughter when I saw a preview of this opening episode at the BFI in London on Friday. The audience now knows the Lund enigma so well, they could only laugh when she reverted to her murder-immersed old self.

Sarah Lund's old flame is on the scene
The global financial meltdown is the backdrop to this 10-part story, and the apparently random death in the scrapyard turns out to have links to the crisis.

Lund with new partner Juncker and Brix
It's a rich mix of a story, with the strands including Sarah Lund's old flame, Mathias Borch from the National Security Service, reappearing in her life, while Prime Minister Kamper is facing re-election and trying to avert the disaster of having Denmark's oil giant Zeeland pulling out of the country and moving operations abroad, costing many local jobs.

Zeeland's boss Robert Zeuthen is facing a boardroom coup, and there's a shocking development concerning his family. It's a tense opening episode, kicking off with chilling murders on board a tanker ship, but one containing a lot of the political machinations of the kind we saw in The Killing 1.

The Killing was the TV drama of 2011
The original series was only shown in the UK last year, a remarkably short time in which Sarah Lund – the awkward, silent, puzzling heroine – has become a much-loved leading character in the crime genre. Having been around since 2007, the subtitled Danish series with no household names in it was a word-of-mouth sensation, clearly catching BBC4 completely unaware.

Is there a link between the sordid murder and corporate powers?
We've watched Lund's decline into loneliness, particularly in series two, where she found herself in uniform on border duty. This second outing lacked the emotional power of the first, which was a heartrending portrayal of the impact of the kidnap and murder of teenager Nanna on her family.

Will series three be a fitting send-off? Some of the novelty has inevitably worn off what was initially an exotic drama for Brits, but the opener is packed with intrigue and Sofie Gråbøl is again very strong and sympathetic as Lund.

Sofie Gråbøl: 'I cried all the way home'
It should also keep us guessing. The actress was at the BFI last week and said that for the third she had guessed wrong who the writer Søren Sveistrup had made responsible for the crimes.

She also acknowledged that finishing her role as Lund had been emotional. 'It hit me like a hammer,' she told the audience. 'I had three big emotional scenes on the last day and it was stressful.' Having been given a bottle of champagne, she said, 'I just ran off because it would be pathetic to cry at work. I cried all the way home.'

Sofie Gråbøl at the BFI. Pic: Robin Jarossi
Sveistrup was also at the BFI and emphasised that series three is definitely the final one. 'It's been great,' he said. 'We agreed from the start that it would not be a neverending story. I'd hate it to become just another mass-produced show.

'So much television stinks. It's important to reinvent yourself. Do something, be proud of it and finish it.'

He's surely right. But Sarah Lund will be much missed.

Cast: Sofie Gråbøl Sarah Lund, Nikolaj Lie Kaas Mathias Borch, Morten Suurballe Lennart Brix, Sigurd Holmen le Dous Asbjørn Juncker, Anders W. Berthelsen Robert Zeuthen, Helle Fagralid Maja Zeuthen, Stig Hoffmayer Niels Reinhardt, Olaf Johannessen Kristian Kamper, Jonatan Spang Kristoffer Kamper, Trine Pallesen Karen Nebel, Tammi Øst Birgit Eggert, Peter Mygind Tage Steiner

Read on:
Why The Killing is the best thing on TV – 10 reasons (CrimeTimePreview)
The Killing BBC4
The Killing (Forbrydelsen) Wikipedia
Sarah Lund's Jumper
Crash course in Danish for Killing fans

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Southland series four starring Michael Cudlitz and Lucy Liu PREVIEW

Rookie cop Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) in Southland. Pics: C4
Rating: ★★★★

More4: starts Thursday, 15 November, 10pm

Story: Ben, Sammy and Dewey chase an armed man into a school. Later Ben finds himself working with cynical street cop Danny Ferguson whose poor attitude affects their work.

Sometimes a criminal enterterprise is uncovered in a backwater, quietly getting away with murder and shooting up the neighbourhood without drawing much attention.

Southland is such an enterprise, a raw cop series about the LAPD that should be notorious as one of the best crime shows on TV, but it's been overlooked because it hangs out on the forgotten sprawl of More4. A bit like Justified, which is unjustifiably overlooked on 5USA.

Officers Copper (Michael Cudlitz) and Tang (Lucy Liu)
Well, hang onto your sofas because another heartstopping chase through the mean alleys and streets of Los Angeles is kicking off, as Southland gets unholstered for season four.

Southland – brutal and sometimes very funny
It's a full-throttle, brutal and occasionally very funny tour in the company of the uniforms and detectives on the frontline in LA. But this is no lame police procedural, it's a characterful study of the personalities coping with a sometimes very dirty job.

There's plenty of station-house banter – some of it not very PC – there is some hanging around the donut vendor drinking coffee, there are car chases, and a lot of face-offs with violent, mean and often stupid gangs and criminals.

We rejoin the show as Officer John Cooper returns to duty after back surgergy, being teamed up with a new partner, Officer Jessica Tang – Lucy Liu on secondment from Elementary. It's a good performance from her, showing a tough exterior we've rarely seen.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

DCI Banks – how good is Stephen Tompkinson as the ITV1 cop?

DC Blackstone, DS Jackman, DI Morton and DCI Banks. Pics: ITV

As the last DCI Banks story in the current series begins on ITV1, writer and blogger Pat Nurse writes about liking the drama, while being less enamoured with its star…

It  takes time to draw me into a new crime series, and so it was with ITV's DCI Banks. Stephen Tompkinson is not my favourite actor and I've never felt  the urge to watch any of the other shows he's been in. Ultimately, what led me to view the current series was the book Bad Boy by author PeterRobinson, which piqued my interest.

It was one of those two-for-one summer deals on novels at my local supermarket. I chose Val McDermid's Trick of the Dark, which is a standalone novel away from her Wire and the Blood series, and the Inspector Banks novel without making the connection to the TV show – probably because I'd never seen any more than the previews advertising the TV series.

Caroline Catz and Stephen Tompkinson
When the current series began, I made sure to watch it and I wasn't disappointed. It has  intrigue, mystery and suspense, but it's not exactly groundbreaking. Banks is branded as a typical clichéd Yorkshireman – grumpy,  down-to-earth, loves the moors, doesn't suffer fools and he loves jazz music. He will be a cantankerous old git when he retires. He is more than halfway there already.

Fast-paced, good plots
The show is fast-paced, with satisfying plots and characters real enough for us to picture them in a UK cop shop.

Banks is an old-style angry copper in the modern world of policing. He plays by the book but hates it and it tweaks it occasionally to progress his investigation. He is a maverick but his team follows. 

However, DCI Banks the series isn't as edgy as the books owing to Tompkinson's overwhelming presence. The character has become larger than Robinson's original creation thanks the the actor's interpretation of him. I get Annie's attraction to him in the book but not in the TV character. Sexy and charismatic are not Tompkinson's middle names, but maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Crime Stories starring Jane Antrobus and Ben Hull PREVIEW

Jane Antrobus and Ben Hull in the documentary-style Crime Stories. Pics: ITV
Rating: ★★★

ITV1: from Monday, 12 November, 2pm

Story: In the opening story, a daughter calls the police because she suspects the carer of her elderly father is stealing from him. As DI Jane Preston and DS Ben Shaw investigate, the case turns out to be trickier than it first appears.

A crime wave is coming to daytime TV as 20 police incidents are being dramatised on weekdays over the next four weeks. Filmed in documentary style with characters speaking directly to camera on occasion to help viewers along, these investigations are based on UK police procedure while being fictional.

They star Ben Hull (Hollyoaks, Family Affairs) as detective sergeant Ben Shaw and Jane Antrobus, a recently retired real-life detective chief superintendent with Great Manchester Police, as detective inspector Jane Preston. The setting is fictional East Central Police Station.

Crime drama without car chases and shootouts
Real policeman will tell you their work can be routine, if not dull, and Crime Stories seems to aim to be authentic, so the cases are low-key, sometimes a little mundane. The Sweeney it ain't.

Episodes 1-5
Ben Hull and Charlotte Brimble in episode three
  • Monday 12: A woman reports that her elderly father has been robbed at his care home 
  • Tuesday 13: When a shop-worker is injured in an armed robbery, her colleague seems distraught
  • Wednesday 14: When Helen’s engagement ring is stolen, she’s sure she knows who took it
  • Thursday 15: School admin-assistant Justine’s house is vandalised. The police are sympathetic – at first
  • Friday 16: An ex-soldier’s home is burgled. The police know who’s done it – but the burglar’s son confesses 

The opening story is about elderly Philip (Corrie's former fave Peter Baldwin), whose daughter thinks his care assistant, Anya (Magdalena Kurek, EastEnders), is pilfering from him. There's a lot to-ing and fro-ing as the detective duo quiz the daughter, dad, Anya and the care-home boss, Marion (another Corrie face, Wendi Peters), about the missing £60.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Secret State starring Gabriel Byrne PREVIEW

Chaos – Deputy Prime Minister Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) inspects the damage. Pics C4
Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Wednesday, 7 November, 10pm

Story: Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins vows to take on the American petrochemical company PetroFex after a devastating accident on British soil. But an array of clandestine powers are ranged against him.

This is a juicy conspiracy drama for these days of official cock-ups, cover-ups and corporations ganging-up on the rest of us.

It's the second time C4 have made a version of British politician Chris Mullin's novel A Very British Coup – the first being shown in 1988 with Ray McAnally – but our dread of what goes on in the corridors of power and commerce has rarely been sharper.

In this new version there's another Irishman playing the man in Number 10 – Gabriel Byrne. He is deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins, who's left with a crisis when an exposion at a petrol plant owned by a US company kills several people in Teesside and devastates a community.
Dawkins and his rivals, Ros Yelland (left) and FelixDurrell

The Prime Minister is killed
When his boss, the Prime Minister, is then killed in a plane crash while returning from America where he's been meeting the PetroFex honchos, safe-pair-of-hands Dawkins becomes temporary PM. That is, until one of the two government velociraptors – Felix Durrell or Ros Yelland – can slug it out in a leadership contest.

This pair waste no time elbowing their way to power, with Ros not exactly breaking down in grief at the PM's demise – 'He's dead. We would have had to replace him anyway after he lost the election.'

The plot thickens nicely as Dawkins balances between these two while at the same time becoming aware that there is a whiff of scandal behind the tragic events, largely thanks to the efforts of journalist Ellis Kane.

The Americans ask GCHQ to bug a journalist
Was the plane the Prime Minister was travelling on, owned by PetroFex, hit by terrorists, or sabotaged by other interests? Why is the pathologist, who's found toxicity in the bodies of blast victims, being blocked in his work? Why have the Americans asked GCHQ to monitor the journalist's mobile phone?

A dark, menacing mood of unseen forces pervades the opening episode (of four). And a terrific cast plays up the shifty-eyed, duplicitous potential of the story for all it's worth.

Gabriel Byrne is definitely star of the show as the establishment's odd man out with his shred of integrity still in tact. He's certainly an actor with an adventurous past (Miller's Crossing, The Usual Suspects, In Treatment) and a fascinating future (the Beeb's new detective series Quirke).

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Imagine on Ian Rankin, BBC1

Ian Rankin (right) with presenter Alan Yentob. Pic: BBC
Rebus fans must catch this Imagine documentary on Tuesday on BBC1, entitled Ian Rankin and the Case of the Disappearing Detective (10.35pm). A nice portrait of the hugely popular Edinburgh author, the show is also a compelling insight – for writers and and wannabe writers – into the writing process. It features a video diary by Rankin that begins in January this year as he embarks on writing Standing in Another Man's Grave, the comeback for his best-loved, alcohol-drenched, now-retired detective hero Rebus. It begins with Rankin dredging through notes scribbled on restaurant napkins and other odd bits of paper, and newspaper clippings, looking for an idea. What often grips him is 'anything to do with old cases,' Rankin says. 'I'm a bit lazy. I read at least one newspaper a day and pretend it's research.'
He also reveals he's never watched an episode of ITV's Rebus series, starring John Hannah and then Ken Stott, because he didn't want the actors to influence his writing of the character (as happened with Colin Dexter and Morse). Happily, Rankin comes across as grounded, curious about the world, friendly and witty.

• Meanwhile, over at ITV, two good-looking dramas have been signed up. Life of Crime is described as a 'gritty, urban' drama, starring Hayley Atwell as a risk-taking policewoman who becomes obsessed with catching the killer of a 15-year-old girl. Interestingly, the three-parter tracks her character over three decades as she rises through the ranks. Murder on the Home Front sails close to the ground covered by the recent The Bletchley Circle, but it is based on true events taken from the memoirs of Molly Lefebure, who was secretary during the Second World War to the Home Office Pathologist and pioneer of modern forensics, Keith Simpson. The Blitz offered good cover to murderers and criminals, and our hero, Dr Lennox Collins (Patrick Kennedy), has his work cut out getting his superiors to accept his new thinking on chemical tests, preserving crime scenes and the workings of the psyche. Molly Cooper will be played by Tamzin Merchant.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Inspector Montalbano – why it's the best show on TV

Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano. Pics: BBC
As Inspector Montalbano comes to his last couple of mysteries on BBC4, blogger and writer Pat Nurse reveals why she adores the Sicilian detective and will miss it when this series ends…

Forensic pathologist Dr Pasquale cries in irritation, 'Montalbano, Montalbano, Montalbano', when asked by the inspector what killed the hapless victim that lies dead before them in each episode – but I find myself repeating the name enthusiastically as I get ready on Saturday evenings for Montalbano night. Pasta, glass of vino and time to watch the best one hour and 50 minutes on TV all week.

Inspector Montalbano is sexist, melodramatic, and decidedly un-PC, but it's also charming, melodic and intriguing.

It's a sort of 70s Sweeney, Italian style, but with culture, manners and love. Like Regan and Carter in their male-dominated office, Montalbano, Augello and Fazio solve crimes the old- fashioned way using instinct and informants. There is not a computer in sight in the Commisario's office.

Montalbano may let the villain off
The only other common factor between the gritty, British urban cop show of 40 years ago and the modern parochial Italian police drama is the dominance of male characters in important roles, and women as eye candy, sex objects, and the cause of most ills.

And it is love that is at the heart of the murders investigated by Inspector Montalbano, who may look the other way if the criminal has done the wrong thing but for the right moral reasons. He is human after all.

Remaining episodes on BBC4
  • The Potter's Field, Saturday, 3 November, 9pm – A plastic bag containing a body cut into pieces is found in a clay field and all the signs point to an old-fashioned Mafia killing. However, Montalbano's colleague and friend Mimi Augello takes a sudden interest and his mood swings arouse suspicion that he may be involved.
  • Treasure Hunt, Saturday 10 November, 9pm – A disturbed maniac is playing a macabre game of treasure hunt with the inspector.
Unlike US crime dramas such as CSI, there is no clinical examination of evidence through close up gory shots defining the case in minute detail for a team of detectives who react as professionals and not humans. We rarely see their private lives, or their fears and weaknesses and it's hard to imagine Grissom outside of his office. I often wonder if actually he ever goes home or has a home to go to.

Serial shagger of female witnesses
Montalbano, on the other hand, is human to the core. He has faults, he acts  unprofessionally at times and appears to be a serial shagger of female witnesses in the latest series with long-standing girlfriend Livia away in Genoa – and not apparently caring what the man she says she loves is up to behind her back.

The women are not independent Scott & Bailey types who take the lead or stand alongside men in investigations. They have traditional Italian roles. 'Good girls' are loyal and pure but 'bad girls' – even transsexuals – get men into trouble or break their hearts. That doesn't mean they are weak or oppressed – far from it. They are feisty, demonstrative and really do scare the hell out of their men as could be seen in last week's episode, The Gull's Dance, when an angry wife gave away the secret hiding place of her husband in a fit of rage on hearing that he had had an affair with the said transsexual lover.

Melodrama surrounds the female characters, while men are a little more reserved . When little Salvo goes missing in August Flame, for example, Augello's wife, Beba, goes into full dramatic mode and over-plays the grief with lots of hand gestures, facial expressions and faints – but then my mother was Italian and melodrama was her middle name, so maybe it's a cultural thing.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Falcón starring Marton Csokas, Hayley Atwell, PREVIEW

Marton Csokas as Falcón. Pics: BSkyB
Rating: ★★★★

Sky Atlantic: Thursday, 15 November, 10pm

Story: Javier Falcón investigates a series of particularly brutal murders, which lead him to uncover shocking buried truths about his own family's history.
The grand tour of European crime scenes continues on Sky Atlantic with this Spanish jaunt in the company of brooding Seville detective Falcón.

This is the fledgling channel’s second crime drama commission following Chloe Sevigny’s Hit & Miss earlier this year, and confirms Sky Atlantic as a maker of distinctive, edgy new series.

Bog standard police procedural it ain’t. It’s a dark nourish tale, vividly directed by Pete Travis, capturing the sour side of a spectacularly lovely city.

Falcón – charismatic, vulnerable
Marton Csokas, who viewers may know from fantasy and epics such as The Lord of the Rings, Kingdom of Heaven and on TV in Xena: Warrior Princess, here steps up to the leading role with panache, making Javier Falcón a charismatic, vulnerable hero. He is joined by a good cast – Charlie Creed-Miles as Falcón’s abrasive sidekick, Hayley Atwell as femme fatale, Bernard Hill as old family friend Ramon.

Falcón is based on the novels of award-winning British writer Robert Wilson, The opening two-part story, The Blind Man of Seville, begins with the torture and murder of a wealthy businessman.

The murder is intercut with scenes of Seville’s bustling Holy Week night-time procession, featuring those spooky pointy-hooded, Ku Klux Klan-like figures – a sequence immediately evoking the murky potential of this vivacious city.

Hayley Atwell is the victim's widow
The victim is Carlos Jiminez, a rich guy with a serious prostitute habit despite his wife being Hayley Atwell. The killer has cut Carlos’s eyelids off.

Was it the wife, or her lover, behind the gruesome death? Falcón doesn’t think it was anything so mundane. When the last prostitute used by Carlos is also murdered, Falcón is convinced the perpetrator is sending some twisted message.

What lifts this first mystery out of ordinary is that it descends into a shocking tailspin for our hero. The investigation swirls around Carlos, a dodgy guy who once ran into serious problems in North Africa, which in turn resulted in his five-year-old son being kidnapped – a crime he never reported.

  • The second Falcón mystery is The Silent and the Damned, Sky Atlantic, 10pm, starts Thursday 29 November
    The sudden death of an eminent Sevillian businessman draws Falcon into a dark conspiracy involving corruption and abuse at the highest level. Stars: Robert Lindsay, Bill Paterson

It's personal for Falcón
Meanwhile, as Falcón sorts out the affairs of his recently deceased father, a distinguished artist, he begins to sense that the killer is triggering old childhood memories for him that no one apart from the detective could know about.

He is also dealing with his ex-wife, played by Emilia fox, who is now sleeping with his boss, the rather suave investigating judge.

Bernard Hill as Ramon
Of course, like watching Brits playing Italians in BBC1’s Zen, hearing the cockney and English voices portraying Spaniards requires a little suspension of disbelief.

Spain joins the TV Euro-crime invasion with Falcón
But Falcón is a pacy, flavoursome thriller, great to look at and absorbing, which culminates in shattering revelations for Falcón. The drama can certainly now hold his head up among the Swedes (Wallander, Sebastian Bergman), Dutch (Van der Valk), Italians (Inspector Montalbano), French (Spiral, Braquo), Danes (The Killing, The Bridge), and – soon – the Irish (C5’s Jack Taylor: The Guards).

Director Pete Travis reveals that Sky Atlantic said to him, ‘Don’t make something ordinary.’

Olé to that.

Cast: Marton Csokas Javier Falcón, Hayley Atwell Consuelo, Charlie Creed Miles Insp Ramirez, Santiago Cabrera Judge Calderon, Bernard Hill Ramon Salgado