Major new crime dramas for autumn

The Last Panthers, Hand of God, Narcos, Lucky Man, The Five

THE SETTING at the exclusive top-floor club of London’s Gherkin was swanky enough to impress to the shady ‘banksters’ featured in Sky Atlantic‘s ambitious new Euro-thriller The Last Panthers.IMG_0844

The channel had taken over the glass eyrie with its mesmerising views of the capital, pictured right, to treat journalists from Britain and France to a glimpse of the work in progress. TV critics from The Times, The Guardian and Heat, along with CrimeTimePreview, mingled with Sky’s MD of Content Gary Davey before viewing selected scenes from the multi-lingual crime drama, starring Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim and John Hurt.

The dinner event and wonderful location were a sign that Sky Atlantic has high hopes for this sophisticated series. It’s a partnership production between Sky Atlantic, Canal + and Sky Deutschland and is filmed in London, Marseille, Belgrade and Montenegro.

The story is based on an idea by French journalist Jerome Pierrat, an expert on Europe-wide crime. It is inspired by the Pink Panthers, Interpol’s name for a real gang of Serbs and Montenegrins, several of them former soldiers, who performed audacious jewel heists, targeting several countries.IMG_0841

The drama begins with a tense jewel robbery, but the story also shifts the narrative back to 1995 and traces the roots of the gang. It looks like a big, sweeping thriller. Samantha Morton glams down for the role of the loss adjustor sent to Balkans, while John Hurt is the seasoned honcho who’s her boss. In English, French and Serbian, The Last Panthers looks to have a lot more going on in it than your average episode of Lewis.

It’s scheduled for November…

Moving on, just take a look at this new series coming from Amazon Prime on 4 September. Hand of God! starring Golden Globe winner Ron Perlman, fresh from Sons of Anarchy, looks just a little unhinged. He’s playing a bent judge in a bind who seems to think he’s  been chosen by God himself to seek vengeance. It’s certainly off-kilter enough to be worth a gander.

Netflix also has a major new crime drama streaming soon. Narcos is a big show telling the story of US and Colombian efforts during the 1980s to take on the mega-powerful Medellin drug cartel. The trailer makes what is a complex and bloody story look like a rollicking good action series, but trailers can be misleading. It will be interesting to see if Netflix can do this huge story justice.

Finally, Sky1 also has two intriguing series looming. Lucky Man stars James Nesbitt in a high-concept series created by comic-book legend Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk etc). Nesbitt plays a cop from London’s Murder Squad who is given an ancient bracelet that gives him the ability to control luck. This has an attractive cast, including Eve Best, Sienna Guillory and Darren Boyd, and what could be a fascinating premise.

Co-creator Neil Biswas says: ‘Is the bracelet really bringing him luck, or is it just another manifestation of the gambling addiction that has always plagued him?’

There is also a lot of buzz around The Five, bestselling thriller author Harlan Coben‘s first original story for TV. Created by Coben, writer of novels such as Tell No One and Gone for Good, and scripted by Bafta-winner Danny Brocklehurst, this 10-parter follows a group of friends haunted by a terrible incident in their childhood. It stars Tom Cullen, O-T Fagbenle, Lee Ingleby and Geraldine James.

Vera series 5 on DVD

image004RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 12 Discs: 2
Running time: 356 mins approx


THE RECENT FIFTH series of ITV’s Vera is now out on DVD. Inspired by the best-selling novels of Ann Cleeves, Vera has since 2011 established itself as one of the channel’s most popular mainstream crime dramas. Key to its success has, of course, been the casting of Brenda Blethyn as the indomitable DCI Vera Stanhope, who in this new series was joined by Kenny Doughty as her sidekick, DS Aiden Healy.

Apart from Doughty, there were few surprises in season five, but the usual well-produced mysteries in the beautifully filmed Northumberland setting were enough to win audiences of around six million viewers. The stories included here are Changing Tides, Old Wounds, Muddy Waters and Shadows in the Sky. It’s only a shame that they seemed to have scrimped on the DVD extras.

Safe House, ITV, Christopher Eccleston


Isolated – Christopher Eccleston in Safe House


He’s a former cop, his remote house offering shelter to a troubled family is ‘safe’ and has security cameras – what could go wrong?

★★★★ ITV, Mondays, 9pm

WITH SO many whodunits, police procedurals and foreign cops on TV these days, it’s a tough ask to come up with something fresh.

Safe House is a thriller that has a good go at doing just that. It has an interesting premise and a magnificent, forbidding setting.

Ex-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston plays Robert, a former cop living in a secluded, ramshackle house in the Lake District with Katy (Marsha Thomason). Robert’s old colleague Mark (Paterson Joseph) points out that the home they plan to turn into a B&B would make a perfect safe house for people who need protection.

Safe House, ITV, Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston, Marsha Thomason and Paterson Joseph

Troubled family go to the safe house

Robert’s career came to a violent end when he was shot. He still hankers after the life and is haunted by the shooting, so he accepts Mark’s proposal, with Katy’s agreement.

The plot is thickened nicely by the family they must take in. Someone has tried to kidnap prison officer David’s son at a fun fair and then killed a bystander who intervened. Who is this menacing figure, who tells David’s son his name is Mike? And why was David targeted?

David (played by Jason Merrells), his wife and their teenage daughter and young son move into Robert’s house. Meanwhile, David attempts to contact his other son, who is meant to be at uni but seems to be living on the road. David’s violent stalker could also be homing in on the lad.

[Read more…]

Code of a Killer, ITV, Trailer

Code of a Killer from ITV Press Centre on Vimeo.

This looks like a really interesting drama from ITV, starring David Threfall and John Simm. It is based on the extraordinary true story of Alec Jeffreys’ discovery of DNA fingerprinting and its first use by Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker in catching a double murderer. It goes out on Monday 6 April and there will be a preview of it here tomorrow…

The Game, BBC2, Tom Hughes, Brian Cox PREVIEW

Tom Hughes and the cast of The Game BBC2
Watch your back – Tom Hughes and the cast of The Game. Pics: BBC


• Espionage thriller with action, sex appeal and a lot of beige 1970s decor. It’s to die for…


BBC2, Thursday, 30 April, 9pm

WE LOVE a good spy yarn. Everything from Bond to Le Carre, all those betrayals and secrets have made for some great film and TV series.

In recent years we’ve had the movie of Tinker Tailor, TV’s Spooks (MI-5 in the US), Foyle’s War, Spies of Warsaw, Homeland and The Americans. So, in this league is The Game an asset or a discard (intelligence slang for an agent to be sacrificed for a more valuable one).

Going by the look of it, The Game is standard spy fare. It’s set in 1972, begins with a double-cross in Poland and is full of uptight, tight-lipped British men in raincoats. So far, so Le Carre.

Tom Hughes and Victoria Hamilton

Victoria Hamilton as Sarah Montag in The Game BBC2
Victoria Hamilton as Sarah Montag

But while it all feels familiar, The Game soon grips. It is a cracking tale of a massive Soviet

conspiracy against Britain, set at the time of the first miner’s strike, which seriously disrupted the country. It has some ripe characters in it, from slippery eel Waterhouse (delicious performance by Paul Ritter) to the talented woman among the male egos, Sarah Montag (Victoria Hamilton), and the charismatic and dark Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes).  [Read more…]

Third Degree: Peter Robinson

PETER ROBINSON is the author of the Inspector Banks novels – the fourth series of which has just started on ITV (see the post below). A multi-award-winning novelist, he was born in Yorkshire and now divides his time between Toronto and Richmond, North Yorkshire. We brought him in for questioning, and here he makes a full and frank confession of his criminal viewing and reading habits…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
Oldies. Prime Suspect, Cracker, Trial and Retribution, Inspector Morse and Poirot, but they’re no longer running.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
I’m enjoying Lilyhammer at the moment. Before that it was Breaking Bad.

Are there any good Canadian TV crime series we should know about?
No. There used to be Night Heat and DaVinci’s Inquest, which were pretty good, but none I know of these days.

Top TV cop?

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
I’m looking forward to Bosch. There’s been a pilot and I think there’s a series on the way [just started on Netflix]. It would be interesting to see William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw on TV, and some of Bill Knox.

DCI Banks has just returned to ITV for a fourth series. What is it like to see your hero being transformed into a TV series?
It’s a process of loss. I thought the first few books adapted were relatively close to the originals, even though Annie disappeared and returned as a single mother and DI Helen Morton, a character I never wrote about, was added to the cast. Then DS Winsome Jackman disappeared, to be replaced by Tariq. The adaptations themselves were almost unrecognisable by the third series, and in the fourth Left Bank will be going with original stories. But if you take any expectations of fidelity to the original plots out of the equation, I think it’s a pretty damn good cop series.

Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe in ITV’s DCI Banks

How involved are you in the making of the series?
Not much, though I have enjoyed being on set and I do get to look at the treatments and scripts before filming. I make occasional minor suggestions for changes, and sometimes they even listen to me!

[Read more…]

DCI Banks 4, ITV, with Stephen Tompkinson, Andrea Lowe, Caroline Catz PREVIEW

DS Cabot (Andrea Lowe), Banks (Stephen Tompkinson) and DI Morton (Caroline Catz)


★★½ ITV: Wednesday, 4 March, 9pm

Story: When Banks suffers a massive personal loss, along with knowledge that Annie is back with her former boyfriend, David, he is forced to navigate a complex murder investigation while still grieving.

I HAVE made the mistake of criticising past series of DCI Banks, and then having to duck as fans of the show – and of Stephen Tompkinson in particular – sent their outraged comments raining down on this site.

My indifference to the drama is that is has largely abandoned the merits of Peter Robinson’s well-written books and that Tompkinson is miscast. He’s a good actor with hit productions on his CV – Drop the Dead Donkey, Brassed Off, Wild at Heart – but as the tough but occasionally charming Alan Banks he seems entirely wrong to me.

The feedback I’ve got in the past has been from viewers who adore him, however, and get upset if he is criticised. Fans, in other words. Which is why, of course, ITV and the Beeb occasionally plonk any popular star in a totally inappropriate role. Because he/she is popular.

The murder of a woman found buried

The other letdown is that DCI Banks offers nothing fresh. Let’s face it, crime dramas are 10 a penny on TV, and the police procedural is most rundown, hackneyed genre going.

In this opening story, What Will Survive, it’s the same old, same old. Banks turns up at a remote spot near a power station where the forensic bods are tending to a partially buried female body.

[Read more…]

Arthur & George, ITV, Martin Clunes, Arsher Ali PREVIEW


ITV: starts Monday, 2 March, 9pm

Story: Set in 1906 in Staffordshire, Hampshire and London, the drama follows Sir Arthur and his trusted secretary, Alfred ‘Woodie’ Wood, as they investigate the case of George Edalji, a young Anglo-Indian solicitor who was imprisoned for allegedly mutilating animals and writing obscene letters.

ARTHUR & GEORGE, based on Julian Barnes’s 2005 novel, is inspired by the story of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle’s reinvention of himself as a real-life investigator.

George Edalji was a half-Indian solicitor who was convicted of the rather revolting Great Wyrley Outrages, in which horses were mutilated in the countryside – crimes that the judge called ‘depraved and bazarre’. Edalji was sentenced to seven years, read Holmes’s adventures while incarcerated, and on his release appealed to the world-renowned author for assistance in clearing his name.

And what an extraordinary tale it is. Like The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – also filmed by ITV – it is an intriguing window into the Victorian mindset and attitudes.

Martin Clunes as Conan Doyle

While this production – with Martin Clunes playing Conan Doyle and Arsher Ali as Edalji – is pretty

Conan Doyle (Martin Clunes) and Jean Leckie (Hattie Morahan)

standard frock coat and carriages fare, the tale itself can’t fail to chill and fascinate.

It is replete with full moons, foggy nights, spectral figures and a sinister hate campaign against Edalji and his multiracial family. Conan Doyle himself would have been hard-pushed to concoct such a yarn.

The drama, like the novel, also touches on Conan Doyles’ seemingly sexless relationship with Jean Leckie following the death of his wife, Louisa.

Martin Clunes is fine as the writer rejuvenated by his investigation, though the Scottish accent wobbles a bit. While he appears to bumble along, wondering whether he should don disguises as his fictional consulting detective would do, Conan Doyle does see through police prejudice and uncover some very unpleasant goings-on.

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