Accused, new crime drama PREVIEW

Christopher Eccleston as Willy (pics: BBC)

BBC1, Mondays from 15 November, 9pm

Rating ★★★★

In Jimmy McGovern’s Accused there is no opening shot of a murder scene, no serial killers and no detective with regulation sidekick.

The stories in this series of six are crime dramas with the emphasis on drama, exploring how ordinary people end up in the dock. Are they guilty, innocent or victims of circumstance?

Christopher Eccleston, who became known via McGovern’s Cracker before appearing in other works by the writer, including Hillsborough, is light years from Doctor Who in this opening episode. He plays Willy, a plumber with a family who wants to clear off with his younger lover.

Pookie Quesnel, Marc Warren, Juliet Stevenson
Just as he’s about to drop his bombshell to his other half, Carmel, his daughter announces she is marrying her boyfriend. His marriage split delayed, Willy finds he can’t finance his daughter Laura’s wedding when his bank card is declined. The building firm that owes him thousands for his plumbing work has gone bust.

Later, in the back of a mini cab he finds the apparent answer to his problems – £20,000 in a Jiffy bag. Loyal Carmel, played movingly by Pookie Quesnel, wants him to hand it in, but despite his best intentions, events take a disastrous turn.

McGovern, a champion of excellent drama with successes such as The Lakes and recently The Street, steers clear away from the norms and cliches of your typical cop show. He says, ‘No police procedure, thanks very much, no coppers striding along corridors with coats flapping. Just crime and punishment – the two things that matter most in any crime drama.’

Future episodes will see Mackenzie Crook (right) as a corporal in a story about not obeying orders; Juliet Stevenson and Peter Capaldi as parents of a fatally injured son; Marc Warren as a dad who acts against his better judgment; and Naomie Harris and Warren Brown as parents whose row causes reckless actions.


Wants to leave his wife for ‘firmer flesh’

Willy’s Story is a good drama, though Willy, with his chippyness and selfishness, is not that sympathetic a protagonist. Eccleston describes him as a loving family man, but if that was the intention, somehow it didn’t come across in the execution.

Certainly, many women will be hard pushed to root for a man who impulsively wants to dump his wife because he fancies some ‘firmer flesh’, as Willy tells the priest who gives him unwanted advice.

But the point with McGovern is often about people in glass houses. And perhaps the strength of Willy’s Story lies in something revealed about this production by Eccleston.

When the actors’ read-through of the script was finished, a vote was taken among those present on whether Willy should go down. The vote was split.

Spooks series nine finale PREVIEW

Is it the end for Lucas and Maya? (Pics: BBC)

Monday, 8 November, 9pm, BBC1


Rating ★★★½

That hall of funfair mirrors that is Spooks has been distorting the identity of Lucas North throughout series nine, and in the tumultuous last episode the twists keep coming right up to the end credits.

Spooks has long specialised in shock set-piece episodes for its major characters, and the fate of Richard Armitage’s troubled agent has certainly kept his large fanbase buzzing on internet forums.

Is there any way out for MI5’s most dashing and skilled spy? Is he a traitor? Or is he playing a dangerous but brilliant double game with the Chinese that will see him welcomed back to Section D with congratulations from his boss, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth)?

Danger for Ruth

This climax lives up to the high standards set in previous series, being an assured mix of suspense and emotional tension. There’s Lucas’s love for Maya (Laila Rouass) at stake. Then Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) is placed in appalling danger, which of course frays the devoted Harry’s sense of duty.

A new element in the mix is Harry’s enlistment of ex-internal affairs specialist Alec White, played with great insolence by Vincent Regan. Arrogant, aggressive, lazy and alcoholic, the grizzled White is still the man Harry needs to ferret out his fugitive agent, and he is a spiky recruit, suddenly making the rest of the team (Lucas aside) look like a bunch of goody two shoes.

When Harry offers him three months’ salary for his services, White demands six, to which Harry replies, ‘No, three should do it. I’ve seen your bank balance.’ Checkmate.

Cliffhanger for Section D
Like its American near relation, 24, Spooks fires so many twists and identity switches that we rarely have the time or inclination to examine the plot holes or character somersaults.

But while it has survived  changes in cast and several controversies to win a large and devoted following since launching in 2002, it will be interesting to see how Spooks develops in series 10, if it gets the green light (and things are left delicately balanced here for more adventures).

How many more hostage situations, plots to blow up London and betrayals before Spooks suffers its own identity crisis?

In the meantime, hang onto your armchairs. In this finale there’s a surprise round every bend.

The Little House PREVIEW

Lucy Griffiths as Ruth (pics ITV)

Monday, 1 November, 9pm, ITV1

Rating ★★★★

The mother-in-law, once the butt of many a cheesy comedy routine, is given a new and ominous twist by Francesca Annis in The Little House.

She certainly doesn’t look like a dragon, she is considerate and generous to her daughter-in-law, Ruth, offering to give her a country cottage in which to raise a family with husband Patrick.

What’s not to like? Well in this engrossing psychological thriller, based on Philippa Gregory‘s best-selling novel, appearances might be misleading.

Rising star Lucy Griffiths

What works brilliantly in this two-parter (scripted by Ed Whitmore, who wrote the recent Identity on ITV, and episodes of Silent Witness) is that it doesn’t hurry its secrets, and for a long time it’s hard to know if the mother-in-law is a conniving psycho or Ruth is unhinged.

Ruth is played by rising star  Lucy Griffiths (U Be Dead, Robin Hood). We meet her as a young wife in love with her busy, successful husband (Rupert Evans). She a woman who becomes cut-off with her apparently caring in-laws and husband, but in a sinister turn of events she soon appears to be losing her mind.

Her wealthy in-laws, Elizabeth (Bafta-winner Annis) and Frederick (Tim Pigott-Smith) have invited the couple to move into a cottage they have bought just a walk from their own huge country house.

Hidden agendas?
Suddenly, Ruth’s cosy life and aspirations as a teacher and for travel with her husband are derailed – ‘I’m not ready for the good life yet,’ she tells Patrick, dreading isolation in the country.

But Ruth becomes unexpectedly pregnant and the Little House becomes home. After a traumatic caesarian birth, she struggles to bond with her baby son. When she appears to have burned the infant with a cigarette, she is diagnosed with post-partum psychosis.

What works so well with the rich scenario created here is that it is hard to know whether Ruth, with her family history of depression, is really endangering the child. And Elizabeth is an ambiguous figure, with her own daughter having transplanted herself and her children to Canada and having nothing to do with her mother.

Family mystery
When Elizabeth says to Frederick, ‘Little Ruthie’s going to have our baby,’ we wonder about hidden agendas.

The Little House is a wonderful diversion from the usual crime-thriller fare, there being no detectives, serial killers, high-concepts or convoluted plots in sight. It’s a fascinating family mystery, acted with subtlety. And after all the polite, middle-class exchanges, it reaches a full-blooded climax.

• crime zapper •

  Law & Order: UK signed off with another strong, twisting episode on Thursday. How often do you see a drama in which the heroes cock it up and an innocent victim is murdered as a result? A nurse insisted she was the victim of a mystery stalker who threw her down a flight of stairs. Brooks and Devlin thought she was making it up to get the police to take her fears more seriously. When she was then quickly murdered, and Brooks and Devlin ended up giving conflicting evidence in court, it gave viewers a powerful story of shifting moral standpoints. It’s been a cracking series, and happily ITV has already commissioned another 13 episodes. Of course, it is a tried and tested formula and ITV are just reheating stories from the US original series, but the cast – Bradley Walsh, Jamie Bamber, Harriet Walter, Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman – are all good, and the stories are absorbing and pacy.

Just finished Stuart Neville‘s The Twelve – for once, the hype was bang on. ITV or the Beeb should drop their obsession with twee period favourites like Poirot and George Gently. This pulverising novel about a former Belfast hitman seeking to placate and avenge the ghosts of the 12 people he murdered is a genre-busting powerhouse of a book, but with moments of tenderness. If made well, The Twelve would be a headbutt in the face of UK television’s cosy crime scene.


What the hell is Lucas (right) up to in Spooks? It goes without saying that he isn’t the man we thought he was – people rarely are in Section D. But series nine is heading for some showdown between Lucas and his boss, Harry. And knowing what a high casualty rate the show has (Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, David Oyelowo, Rupert Penry-Jones and Hermione Norris, among others, all having been fired or murdered), will it be the end of the line for Richard Armitage (Lucas) or Peter Firth (Harry)? ‘Shocking consequences’ are being promised by the Beeb…

Sherlock Holmes Versus Dracula PREVIEW

Halloween Night, 9pm, BBC Radio 7
Rating ★★★

Tis the season to be creepy, and BBC Radio 7 gets into the Halloween spirit nicely by disinterring this old 90-minute face-off between two of the most popular characters in fiction.

‘An appealing problem, most appealing,’ Sherlock Holmes calls the incidence of the ghostly schooner that sweeps into Whitby Bay with only the dead captain on board. The man, who has such a look of horror on his face that he barely resembles a human, has lashed himself to the wheel. The rest of the crew is nowhere to be seen, though a large dog escapes the vessel when it reaches the dock.

Holmes then learns that the only cargo carried is 50 large boxes of dirt, and that the dead captain has two puncture marks on his neck.

Bram Stoker wrote Holmes out of Dracula’s story!
For once the audience is ahead of the great sleuth and Dr Watson, so familiar are we with ‘The Adventure of the Foreign Schooner’, as Holmes calls it so prosaically. This allows the American writer Loren D Estleman, and Glyn Dearman who adapted his story for radio, to have fun linking the vampire to Holmes.

The conceit is that Watson, in his narration of Holmes’ adventures, is trying to put the record straight after that ‘spurious monograph’ by the Irishman Bram Stoker, which fails to credit Holmes for his role in the downfall of the count.

Blood-stopping screams
The action moves from Whitby to what Holmes called ‘infamous Hampstead Heath’, whose infamy has nothing to do with pop stars cruising there, but with the ‘sanguinary count’ and his chums attacking children.

John Moffatt is Holmes, Timothy West plays Watson and David March is Dracula. This is an old production, heard most recently on Radio 7 in 2007, but the whole thing is pitch perfect for Halloween night, full of foggy boats, stiff upper lips, creaking hinges and blood-stopping screams.

By the way, Radio 7 is a treasure house of great crime plays and book readings, from HRF Keating and Edgar Wallace to Mark Gatiss and John Harvey. And they’re planning something special for Sherlock Holmes’ birthday in January 2011.

Agatha Christie Poirot: Hallowe’en Party PREVIEW

Ariadne and Poirot (pics ITV)

Rating ★★★

Wednesday, 27 Oct, 8pm ITV1

Since 1989 ITV has produced more than 60 Poirot’s with David Suchet as the smug Belgian.

There is no mystery in concluding that Agatha Christie’s sleuth has his fans, that a hardcore of viewers relish Suchet’s performance along with the period of steam trains, sensible cardies and roaring hearths.

Equally, there are many left bored by the formula, finding the implausible dramas as satisfying as solving sudoku puzzles, and ‘Ercule Poirot with his GCSE French (‘Oui,’ ‘N’est-ce pas?’ etc), references to himself in the third person (‘Poirot will find out all’) and all-round pomposity simply naff.

C’est la vie (that’s enough school French, Ed). But whether the series is considered a trick or a treat, it is back with a decent seasonal mystery that should delight devotees. Hallowe’en Party is dark and atmospheric, as should be expected from a script by Mark Gatiss (who not only co-wrote and starred in Sherlock this summer, but has his History of Horror on BBC Four, and is soon to be seen in The First Men in the Moon, also on BBC Four).


It features the return of one of Poirot’s few female friends, crime writer Ariadne Oliver in an almost affectionate performance again by Zoë Wanamaker. Timothy West, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Deborah Findlay are among the suspects.

It is Ariadne who is attending a children’s Hallowe’en party at Woodleigh Common when  a young girl, Joyce, brags that she once witnessed a murder. Everyone pooh-poohs her story, but when the child is found with her head submerged in an apple-bobbing tub, Ariadne knows who to call.

Poirot realises that even if Joyce was a fantasist she may not have lied about the murder, and that if he can work out which of three recent local murders the girl was talking about, he will be close to the killer.

Armchair sleuths will have to strain every little grey cell to fathom out whether a forged codicil in will, a missing au pair or a secret love affair is the key. 

Only six or seven Poirot stories remain to be filmed, and from what David Suchet says it is not only older viewers who will be saddened that the production line is coming to an end. ‘I’m now getting letters from seven year olds who have suddenly got hooked!’ the actor said. ‘I recently sent photographs to two eight year old twins who come home from school and make their mother put on Poirot! In the same month I sent a box of chocolates to someone who was 94 in an old people’s home. Almost 90 years difference in age yet they are watching the same programme.’

Go figure.   

Third Degree: Pauline Rowson

Crime novelist Pauline Rowson, author of the Marine series of mysteries, is pulled into crimetimepreview headquarters for questioning. 
Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
I have quite a few favourites so selecting one is rather difficult, but here is my shortlist:  Morse because the production, music and acting are superb; Frost, because I like the shambolic air that pervades Frost’s investigations along with the humour; Poirot because I enjoy the classic murder mystery and historical aspect, the latter of which also applies to Foyle’s War, which I enjoy because of the gorgeous Michael Kitchen. Then there is New Tricks because of the great actors and that tongue-in-cheek humour, and how can I possibly leave out DCI Gene Hunt. He’s a maverick, a cowboy who rides out into the big bad world seeking justice.
Top TV cop?
And the award goes to … whoever said I was indecisive?
Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
My Inspector Andy Horton of course, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?  I’ve been re-reading the classic novels of Josephine Tey and think her Inspector Grant novels would make a good TV drama or a series.  They’re set in the mid 1940s to 1950s. Also many of Robert Goddard’s novels would make excellent TV dramas.
If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?
That’s such a tough question because how I see Andy Horton, my detective in my marine mystery police procedural novels, is not how others see him. So, I offer up suggestions made by some of my readers: Jason Statham, Daniel Craig, Dominic West, Toby Stephens, Damien Lewis, Robert Glenister. Getting the right actor plays a critical part in the success or otherwise of a television detective series adapted from the novels.
What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)?
I don’t have a guilty conscience when I watch them but I do enjoy old black and white thriller and detective movies, both British and American.
Least favourite cop show/thriller?
Anything that is too gruesome, graphic and contains rape, brutality, kids and torture. I like my crime to entertain, thrill and captivate me, not to give me nightmares.
Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
Reginald Hill, Robert Barnard, R D Wingfield, Robert Goddard and many from the classic Golden Age of Crime.
Favourite non-crime/thriller author
J B Priestley
Favourite crime movie or thriller?
The Long Arm starring Jack Hawkins – superb example of the forerunner of all the classic crime programmes ranging from Softly, Softly, Z Cars to The Bill, Frost, Morse and so on.  Plus The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford, and literally anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective would you want to call up?
Depends on who I am alleged to have murdered and how, but I reckon either Sherlock Holmes or DCI Gene Hunt would get me out of a jam.
Blood on the Sand, by Pauline Rowson (9780727868824).
In the fifth Marine Mystery, Detective Inspector Andy Horton’s Isle of Wight vacation is cut short when he encounters what appears to be the scene of a murder – and a woman who seems to be the killer, still holding the murder weapon. But there’s far more to it than that, and soon Andy is deep into an investigation that reaches far into the past.

 

Republic of Doyle PREVIEW

Wednesdays, 10pm, from 27 Oct on Alibi

Rating ★★★

It’s being plugged on its resemblance to old faves Rockford and Remington Steele, and old-fashioned  Republic of Doyle certainly is.

James Garner fans won’t have any trouble spotting the similarities with his much-loved detective, Jim Rockford. Set in St John’s City on the Canadian island of Newfoundland, the series features roguish private eye Jake Doyle, who relies on the wisdom and wisecracks of dad, ex-cop Malachy.

Sean McGinley
Newfoundland native Allan Hawco, who’s been knocking around on obscure mini-series and TV movies (Zone of Separation? The Third Eye?) is the co-creator and star, being just the right side of smug as Doyle. Far more familiar is Irishman Sean McGinley as Mal, veteran of films and TV including Inspector George Gently, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Street, Taggart and many others.

Jake and Mal

It’s the interplay between romantically reckless Jake and romantically sorted Mal that gives this new Canadian production on crime network Alibi its fun edge.

The opening story even feels like one we’ve all seen many times over. A man comes to Doyle asking him to help get his son off a manslaughter charge. The man’s son is an old friend of Doyle’s, so he rushes off to help.

The imprisoned friend says he doesn’t remember killing the man, or what caused their argument, and doesn’t appear to want Doyle’s help. All the while, Doyle’s getting grief from his estranged wife, Nikki (Rachel Wilson), and unwanted advice from the old man.

OK, Republic of Doyle doesn’t shatter the crime series template with originality, but for a harmless bit of entertainment that does boast a few laughs, it’s a decent way to while away an hour.

Interplay between sharp characters
Its best feature is the friction between the regular characters, with Mal’s sassy partner Rose (Lynda Boyd) and Jake’s cocky niece, Katrina (Marthe Bernard), making up the ensemble. And St John’s is certainly different for a setting, a beautiful, once sleepy seaport that’s being transformed by oil money.

Nikki, Rose and Jake

It’s done well enough to have a second series commissioned, which is being filmed right now for 2011.

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