Apple Tree Yard, BBC1, Emily Watson

Apple Tree Yard - TX: n/a - Episode: Apple Tree Yard - early release (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Costley (BEN CHAPLIN), Yvonne Carmichael (EMILY WATSON) - (C) Kudos - Photographer: Nick Briggs

Close encounter: Costley (Ben Chaplin) and Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson)

Gripping, mature psychological thriller about the disastrous fallout from an illicit affair

★★★★ BBC1, Sunday, 22 January, 9pm

THIS IS A THRILLER for grown-ups. There is no elaborate concept, fancy stunts or evil masterminds. Instead, it’s contemporary and down-to-earth as it delves into the life of a successful woman tempted to indulge in a raunchy affair.

With a hugely sympathetic leading performance by Emily Watson and an enigmatic lover portrayed by Ben Chaplin, Apple Tree Yard is a rich mix of the illicit and dangerous.

Watson is Dr Yvonne Carmichael, scientist, wife and mother. She is trapped in a web of intrigue when she takes a walk on the wild side with a mysterious stranger. Finding herself alone with him in the crypt of the House of Commons, Yvonne gives in to sudden temptation.

As she confides to her diary: ‘Before I met you I was a civilised woman…’

Who is Apple Tree Yard’s enigmatic lover?

The stranger is Mark Costley and they start to meet for risky sex – risky in that he is fixated with doing it in public places. She is just fixated with him.

Apple Tree Yard, Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin, BBC

Guilty look: Costley and Yvonne in the Crypt

But who is charming Mark? He seems at home in Parliament, says he is something in Crown properties management… but Yvonne starts to suspect he more shady than that. A spy, perhaps?

Apple Tree Yard is based on an excellent thriller by novelist Louise Doughty. I was a judge on the CWA Ian Fleming Thriller of the Year Award and can reveal that all the judges loved this smart, dark tale. It was shortlisted for the prize, but narrowly edged out by eventual winner, Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy. [Read more…]

The Witness for the Prosecution, BBC1

Programme Name: The Witness for the Prosecution - TX: n/a - Episode: Witness For The Prosecution (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *** This image is under strict embargo until Mon 28th November 2016 00.01 *** L - R Emily French (KIM CATTRALL), Romaine Heilger (ANDREA RISEBOROUGH), John Mayhew (TOBY JONES), Leonard (BILLY HOWLE), Janet McIntyre (MONICA DOLAN) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Todd Antony & Robert Viglasky

Rough justice: Kim Cattrall, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Billy Howle, Monica Dolan

Gripping, dark adaptation of Agatha Christie’s courtroom mystery

★★★★ BBC1, Boxing Day 9pm

I MUST COME CLEAN and confess all. I’m not an Agatha Christie fan. I admire her craft and ingenuity, but the stories’ often laughably convoluted solutions irritate me and the characters leave me cold.

So, this two-part production of The Witness for the Prosecution wrongfooted me – absolutely gripping, unsettling and tinged with sadness, it packed a far bigger emotional wallop than these costume pantomimes usually have.

The Witness for the Prosecution - TX: n/a - Episode: Witness For The Prosecution (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: ** THIS IMAGE IS UNDER STRICT EMBARGO OF 24th NOV 2016 ** Janet McIntyre (MONICA DOLAN) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Milk

Service without a smile: Janet McIntyre (Monica Dolan)

Toby Jones is particularly affecting as the poor solicitor John Mayhew, who takes on the seemingly unwinnable defence of Leonard Vole, played by Billy Howle. Vole is accused of bludgeoning his sugar mummy Emily French, former Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall.

Kim Cattrall’s plaything

On the prowl for company, Emily sees Leonard getting fired from his job as a waiter, taking him home and paying him to be her plaything.

All this is watched by Emily’s rather insubordinate maid, a performance veering between unhinged and sinister by Monica Dolan. When the maid finds her employer in a bloody pool on the carpet, she points the finger at Leonard.

Crime author Sophie Hannah is an Agatha Christie champion and often speaks of the Queen of Crime’s psychological depth. This has always eluded me, but The Witness for the Prosecution again breaks the pattern, as the twisted, tortured characters are truly absorbing.

The Witness for the Prosecution - TX: n/a - Episode: Witness For The Prosecution (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: This image is under strict embargo 3rd December 2016 00.01 Romaine Heilger (ANDREA RISEBOROUGH) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

Swinging star: Romaine Heilger (Andrea Riseborough)

Andrea Riseborogh as Romaine

Andrea Riseborough as Leonard’s doe-eyed but hyena-hearted girlfriend Romaine is scary, while Mayhew, haunted by the loss of his son, is the story’s tragic hero.

Writer Sarah Phelps, who also adapted last Christmas’s BBC hit And Then There Were None, has done a great job in injecting emotion and passion – particularly in the bedroom.

And for once the period is not just nostalgic window dressing. The atmosphere is foggy and threatening, and you get an appreciation of what it was like in pre-war Britain to have no means or status.

See also…

Maigret’s Dead Man, Rowan Atkinson, ITV

ROWAN ATKINSON as Maigret. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com For further information please contact: Patrick.smith@itv.com

He’s back – Rowan Atkinson as Maigret

It’s a Gallic shrug for Rowan Atkinson’s return as the Parisian detective

★★½ ITV, Christmas Day, 9pm

‘TIS THE SEASON to enjoy cosy costume crime. Nothing too bloody or realistic. So while the Beeb is giving us Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution, ITV has another helping of Rowan Atkinson’s Maigret.

This take on Georges Simenon’s creation hardly caused a ripple when it was unveiled to us with Maigret Sets a Trap last Easter. In fact, as I write this, Maigret is currently in last place in our poll of favourite 2016 crime series (see below). However, ITV seem desperate to make this work having finally run out of Poirot’s to make.

 This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com For further information please contact: Patrick.smith@itv.com

Rough stuff – John Light as baddie Dacourt

There are 76 Maigret novels and 28 short stories to plunder. That would keep us up to our trilbies in Parisian sleuthing for decades.

Shaun Dingwall, Lucy Cohu and Aiden McCardle

So does Maigret’s Dead Man finally ignite into a must-see drama? It is handsomely produced and the cast features good performers, such as Shaun Dingwall, Lucy Cohu and Aiden McCardle.

 MAIGRET Pictured : LUCY COHU as Madame Maigret. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com For further information please contact: Patrick.smith@itv.com

Lucy Cohu as Madame Maigret

And the dual tale – of a farmhouse slaughter in Picardy and the kidnap and killing of a man in Paris – are pretty juicy.

However, despite the money and expertise lavished on the production, it is plodding and unconvincing. Anyone who has got into Nordic noir in recent years or top French series such as Spiral over on BBC4, have got over the language hangup and enjoy the foreignness of it all. [Read more…]

Rillington Place, Tim Roth, Samantha Morton

Programme Name: Rillington Place - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Ethel Christie (SAMANTHA MORTON), John Christie (TIM ROTH) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Des Willie

Married to a monster: Ethel (Samantha Morton) and John Christie (Tim Roth)

One of Britain’s most chilling serial killers is depicted in this dark drama

★★★★ BBC1, starts Tuesday, 29 November, 9pm

JOHN REGINALD CHRISTIE’S crimes during the 1940s and 50s shocked and haunted Britain. 

He murdered at least eight women, including his wife, Ethel. He also testified against Timothy Evans for the murder of his wife and infant daughter, whom Christie had himself murdered.

Official dismay over the miscarriage of justice that resulted in Evans’ being hanged eventually helped to end capital punishment in 1965.

Dramatising the life of such a notorious psychopath is a delicate proposition if it is not to be labelled cheap or sensationalist. Writers Ed Whitmore and Tracey Malone have gone to great lengths to produce a serious drama, using original sources at the National Archives and interviewing surviving relatives.

The resulting three-part miniseries is dark, but does a good job of looking at a period of Christie’s life and trying to glimpse into how his type functions.

Tim Roth and Samantha Morton

 John Christie (TIM ROTH) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Des Willie

Voyeur: John Christie

The production is helped hugely by stunning performances. Tim Roth and Samantha Morton as Christie and his wife are superb. These are quiet characters and so much of the drama and menace comes from tone of voice and glances.

And what a purple period this is in Tim Roth’s career. We’ve recently seen him as one of Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight. Next up, he’s a sheriff in Canada in Tin Star. Then we’ll see him in David Lynch’s next instalment of Twin Peaks.

Rillington Place‘s three episodes are told from the viewpoints of different characters: Ethel, Timothy Evans (played by Nico Mirallegro) and finally Christie.

The opener asks how it is that Ethel could live with the manipulative, creepy pervert. She has family in Yorkshire,  where she and Christie are from, but still returns to him. [Read more…]

In Plain Sight, ITV

ITV IN PLAIN SIGHT EPISODE 1 Pictured :DOUGLAS HENSHALL as Muncie and MARTIN COMPSTON as Peter Manuel. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com

Best of enemies: Douglas Henshall as Muncie and Martin Compston as Peter Manuel

Chilling, fact-based portrait of Peter Manuel, infamous Scottish psychopath from the 1950s

★★★★ ITV, Wednesday, 7 December, 9pm

ITV HAS A good record of adapting true-crime events into mini-dramas. The appalling cases of the Moors Murderers, Fred West and the Yorkshire Ripper have all been portrayed, usually with some controversy, but they have been pretty sensitive and serious-minded.

In Plain Sight goes back a little further back into the crime annals to a notorious case from 1950s Scotland. Peter Manuel was a truly nasty criminal. He was a rapist, robber and killer who inflicted a reign of grief on the quiet communities of South Lanarkshire.

This three-parter shows the duel that arose between Manuel and detective William Muncie, who – in spite of opposition from his boss – waged a campaign to put the psychopath behind bars.

Martin Compston and Douglas Henshall

In Plain Sight Pictured :DOUGLAS HENSHALL as Muncie and MARTIN COMPSTON as Peter Manuel. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com

Threatened: family man Muncie

Douglas Henshall (Collision, Shetland) plays the cop with a near obsession. Peter Manuel is played with convincing swagger and odiousness by Martin Compston (Line of Duty).

Released from prison in 1955, Manuel embarked on a two-year killing spree, claiming eight lives in South Lanarkshire. He also made various veiled threats against Muncie, the man who had him put away for sexual assault.

1950s setting is skilfully done

Manuel evaded justice for so long because the local police had never encountered such a spree killer. He was a cold-blooded psycho who committed callous, motiveless crimes.

Henshall brings tight-lipped passion to Muncie, while the brash, controlling Manuel is excellently brought to life by Compston. The 1950s setting is also skilfully done, emphasising the modest lifestyles and how vulnerable the community was to the brute on the loose.

 Pictured :DOUGLAS HENSHALL as Muncie and MARTIN COMPSTON as Peter Manuel. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com

One of the few who stands up to Manuel: his sister Theresa (Bobby Rainsbury)

The drama steers clear of depicting Manuel’s crimes in detail, but still captures what a toxic presence he was. He taunted the authorities, and manipulated his family, the courts and anyone who crossed his path. For a textbook example of a psychopathic personality, it’s hard to beat.

It’s called In Plain Sight because Manuel was a high-visibility killer. He loved the limelight, but being in his audience was not to be recommended.

New Crime Series 2017

Here is our annual preview of new crime series and thrillers coming up. Most will be on next year, but some will feature in the autumn of 2016, including…

Programme Name: Rillington Place - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: **FIRST LOOK** John Christie (TIM ROTH) - (C) BBC - Photographer: BBC

Notting Kill: notorious serial murderer John Christie (Tim Roth)

Rillington Place, BBC1, Tuesday, 29 November, 9pm

Tim Roth, Samantha Morton, Nico Mirallegro

The Beeb revisits one of the most chilling true crimes in British criminal history. The multiple murders of ex-copper John Christie in Notting Hill in the 1940s and 50s – and the hanging of innocent man Timothy Evans on Christie’s testimony – was a case that haunted the justice system and one that provokes controversy still. It will star Tim Roth as the creepy killer and Samantha Morton as his wife (and one of his victims, of which there were probably eight in all). Writers Ed Whitmore and Tracey Malone say: ‘This is a story you just can’t look away from: an unlikely serial killer who orchestrated a devastating miscarriage of justice. It has drawn us in at every turn and has attracted an incredibly exciting level of talent who are as committed as we are to bringing it to life.’

Anticipation factor ★★★★★

Rillington Place Ethel Christie (SAMANTHA MORTON) - (C) BBC - Photographer: BBC

Wife: Ethel Christie (Samantha Morton)

Innocent, ITV

Hermione Norris, Lee Ingleby

Four-part drama telling the story of David Collier (Lee Ingleby) who is living a nightmare. Convicted of murdering his wife Tara, David has served seven years in prison. He’s lost everything he held dear: his wife, his two children and even the house he owned. He’s always protested his innocence and faces the rest of his life behind bars. Convinced of his guilt, Tara’s childless sister Alice (Hemione Norris) and her husband Rob (Adrian Rowlins) are now parents to David’s children. His situation couldn’t be more desperate. Then David’s case comes up on appeal…

Anticipation factor ★★★★

Fortitude - Series 02 First look images from series two of Sky Atlantic’s arctic thriller, Fortitude, from the set in Iceland. The Sky original drama, co-produced by Pivot, stars Dennis Quaid, Sofie Gråbøl and Richard Dormer.

Chilling out: Dennis Quaid in Fortitude 2

Fortitude 2, Sky Atlantic

Dennis Quaid, Sofie Gråbøl, Sienna Guillory, Parminder Nagra, Michelle Fairley, Ken Stott

Hollywood star Dennis Quaid turns up in the ‘cosy, twisted world of’ Fortitude in the Arctic Circle for another tense mystery. There is little on the story right now, but the setting is spectacular and so is the cast.

Anticipation factor ★★★★

Fortitude - Series 02 First look images from series two of Sky Atlantic’s arctic thriller, Fortitude, from the set in Iceland. The Sky original drama, co-produced by Pivot, stars Dennis Quaid, Sofie Gråbøl and Richard Dormer.

Ice day for a murder – Fortitude 2‘s stunning setting

Kiss Me First, C4 and Netflix

Cast: details to be announced

An adaptation of Lottie Moggach’s best-selling young adult novel of the same name, telling the story of Leila, a lonely 17-year-old girl who is addicted to a fictional online gaming site called Agora. While in Agora, Leila meets Tess, a cool and confident party girl who harbours a dark secret…

Anticipation factor ★★★★

From Warner Bros Lethal Weapon on ITV Pictured: Roger Murtaugh [Damon Wayans] and Martin Riggs [Clayne Crawford]. This photograph is (C) Warner Bros and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or ITV plc. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com

Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) and Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford)

Lethal Weapon, ITV

Clayne Crawford, Damon Wayans

Spin-off from the hit movie franchise, we join Riggs and Murtaugh as they confront the criminals of Los Angeles. Family man and by-the-book LAPD Detective Roger Murtaugh (Wayans) is back to work after a near fatal heart attack – and his doctor has told him he needs to keep his stress levels under control. Easier said than done given that he’s been paired with ex-Navy SEAL-turned-detective Martin Riggs (Crawford), who has moved to California for a new start at the LAPD.

Anticipation factor ★★★★

Loch Ness

Siobhan Finneran, John Sessions

No, it’s not about the hunt for a mysterious dinosaur, but rather the efforts to catch a serial killer plaguing the beautiful, haunting shores of Scotland’s most iconic Loch. Happy Valley‘s Siobhan Finneran teams up with John Sessions for this six-parter featuring detective Annie Cathro as she tries to cope with her first murder case. Written by Stephen Brady (Fortitude, Vera, Silent Witness).

Anticipation factor ★★★★

Riviera, Sky Atlantic

Wish you were here? Julia Stiles in Riviera

Riviera, Sky Atlantic

Julia Stiles

This South of France-set thriller really does look like a gripper. It’s a 10-parter based on an idea by former U2 manager Paul McGuinness, directed by Neil Jordan and co-written by Booker Prize-winner John Banville. Georgina (Julia Stiles) is newly married to billionaire Constantine Clios, when he is killed in a yacht explosion. She is shocked to discover the fortune that maintained his immaculate, tasteful lifestyle is tainted with dishonesty, double-dealing, crime – and murder. Julia Stiles, star of the Bourne movies, said: ‘What attracted me to Riviera is the setting, a romantic and glamorous world where not everything is as it seems, and the opportunity to explore a character who is also not as she appears. Georgina is the classic anti-hero, ultimately a good person, but compromised by the corruption around her.’

Anticipation factor ★★★★★

Maigret 2, ITV

Rowan Atkinson, Shaun Dingwall, Lucy Cohu

This really felt like a failed attempt to bring the much-loved Parisian detective to the small screen when the first instalment went out last Easter, but ITV looked at consolidated viewing figures of 7.2 million and hit the green light. There will be two new mysteries, Night at the Crossroads – which just started filming this week – and Maigret in Montmartre. Well, author Georges Simenon wrote 75 Maigret novels, so the channel has plenty of attempts to inject its adaptations with some passion and edge.

Anticipation factor ★★★

In Plain Sight, ITV

Douglas Henshall, Martin Compston

True-crime three-parter recounting the rather scary Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel and the attempt to snare him during the 1950s. What was chilling about Manuel, who was actually born in New York to Scottish parents, was that he callously committed a range of horrible crimes, including property and sexual crimes, then he killed those whom he robbed or raped. His spree claimed eight lives in the close-knit communities of South Lanarkshire.

Anticipation factor ★★★★★

Prime Suspect – 1973, ITV

Stefanie Martini, Sam Reid, Blake Harrison, Alun Armstrong

A prequel to the hugely popular and influential ITV series Prime Suspect, this is adapted from a novel by the show’s creator Lynda La Plante. Stefanie Martini, who may be familiar from Doctor Thorne, will play the young Jane Tennison. The six-parter has completed filming in London, and will explore what made Tennison such a formidable and complex character.

Anticipation factor ★★★★★

penned by acclaimed screenwriter Rowan Joffe. Tin Star follows Jim Worth (Tim Roth), an ex-pat British police officer who becomes obsessed with revenge when his small town in the Rockies is overrun by workers from a massive new oil refinery - and the wave of drugs, prostitution and organised crime that follows them. Riding the crime wave is a mysterious gang of killers who murder a member of Jim’s family, in a botched assassination attempt on Jim’s own life. We follow Jim as he deals with his tremendous guilt and attempts to uncover who is responsible.

Dust-up in Canada – Tim Roth in Sky Atlantic’s revenge thriller Tin Star

Tin Star, Sky Atlantic

Tim Roth, Christina Hendricks

Tim Roth – again – teams up with Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks for this contemporary take on the Western genre, set in the Canadian Rockies. Tin Star tells the story of Jim Worth, an ex-Metropolitan police detective who has moved with his family to the Rocky Mountains to start a new life as a local police chief in an idyllic rural community. When his small town is overrun by migrant workers from a massive new oil refinery – the wave of drugs, prostitution and organised crime that follows them threatens to sweep away everything in its wake.

Anticipation factor ★★★★★

Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks star in this Sky Atlantic revenge thriller penned by acclaimed screenwriter Rowan Joffe. Tin Star follows Jim Worth (Tim Roth), an ex-pat British police officer who becomes obsessed with revenge when his small town in the Rockies is overrun by workers from a massive new oil refinery - and the wave of drugs, prostitution and organised crime that follows them. Riding the crime wave is a mysterious gang of killers who murder a member of Jim’s family, in a botched assassination attempt on Jim’s own life. We follow Jim as he deals with his tremendous guilt and attempts to uncover who is responsible.

Christina Hendricks in Tin Star

[Read more…]

The Moonstone, BBC1

Programme Name: The Moonstone - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Mr Murthwaite (GUY HENRY), Rachel Verinder (TERENIA EDWARDS), Guardian (JAG SANGHERA), Lady Verinder (SOPHIE WARD), Rosanna Spearman (JANE McGRATH), Dr Candy (JEREMY SWIFT) - (C) King bert - Photographer: Ray Burmiston

Fun and games: Rachel Verinder (Terenia Edwards) in party mode

Classic costume mystery for daytime

★★★ BBC1, Monday to Friday, 31 Oct-4 Nov, 2.15pm

MOONSTONE is a little gem for daytime viewers, a decent adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ classic mystery as part of the Beeb’s Love to Read season.

It’s good to see the channel mounting a proper costume drama for the afternoons. But while it is enjoyable, it is also a little plodding. Perhaps because the book, published in 1868, is credited with casting the template for the modern detective story, it feels mechanical and lacking a little in emotion.

John Thomson as Sergeant Cuff

The story kicks off in 1849. Franklin Blake (Joshua Silver) returns to England. His father has died and he must deal with the fallout from the shocking events of the year before when the famous Indian Moonstone was stolen on the night of 18th birthday of Rachel Verinder (Terenia Edwards).

Franklin can only win her heart, we discover, if he finds the thief. There are suspects, a celebrated detective, Sergeant Cuff (John Thomson), various stock Victorian types –mysterious Indians, miserable servants – and a country house.

If you like Agatha Christie and a handsomely mounted costume affair, then The Moonstone should have passed the afternoons nicely this week. If you have missed it, you can catch up, of course, on BBC iPlayer.

Dark Angel, ITV, Joanne Froggatt

From ITV DARK ANGEL EPISODE 1 Pictured: JOANNE FROGGATT as Mary Ann. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com For further information please contact: Patrick.smith@itv.com

Chilling: Joanne Froggatt as Mary Ann

The chilling true story of Victorian serial killer Mary Ann Cotton

★★★½ ITV, Monday, 31 October, 9pm

FEMALE SERIAL KILLERS are a rare breed, but Victorian England produced a couple, of which poisoner Mary Ann Cotton was a particularly notorious.

ITV has lined up a strong cast, including Downton‘s Joanne Froggatt in the lead role and Alun Armstrong, to bring her to life in two two-hour episodes. Adaptations of true crimes are a speciality of the channel and they have a strong track record in giving dramatic but sensitive insight into the horrors of Fred West, the Yorkshire Ripper and the Moors Murderers.

We first meet Mary Ann as a 24-year-old apparently loving wife and mother in 1854, newly returned to her native North East of England. But faced with poverty and an ailing husband, we see how ruthless she is in pursuing her desires – and a better life.

Arsenic and life insurance

From ITV DARK ANGEL EPISODE 1 Pictured: JOANNE FROGGATT as Mary Ann. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com For further information please contact: Patrick.smith@itv.com 4

Happy family? Joanne Froggatt as Mary Ann and Alun Armstrong as George Stott

Grim poverty is the backdrop to this chilling tale. The couple move to Sunderland for husband Billy’s work, but Mary Ann is furious when he tells her he is too sick to work.

A life of bedbugs, scrubbing and a screaming baby is all she has. Having also lost five infants, her state of mind is probably not all that balanced. That Billy has life insurance and there is a bottle of arsenic in the kitchen offers her a terrible way out.

Portraying these events at the distance of more than a century means quite a few imaginative leaps have to be made. The resulting drama is not entirely convincing at times, but this is such an extraordinary story that it is still compelling. [Read more…]

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