And Then There Were None, BBC1

Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Thomas Rogers (NOAH TAYLOR), Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), AJ Marston (DOUGLAS BOOTH), Dr Armstrong (TOBY STEPHENS), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), William Blore (BURN GORMAN), Emily Brent (MIRANDA RICHARDSON), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), Ethel Rogers (ANNA MAXWELL MARTIN)

Guilty looks – Aidan Turner, Noah Taylor, Maeve Dermody, Douglas Booth, Toby Stephens, Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Burn Gorman, Sam Neill and Anna Maxwell Martin

A star-packed cast gathers for one of Agatha Christie’s best-loved mysteries

★★★½ BBC1, Boxing Day, 9pm

BASED on the Queen of Crime’s bestselling mystery of all time, And Then There Were None gets a handsome showcase and starry cast from the Beeb to ensure this three-parter is a lavish treat for the Christmas holidays.

Agatha Christie’s mystery, recently voted her best by the Crime Writers’ Association, is Christie par excellence with its isolated island setting, a motley band of victims and suspects, and a fiendishy silly denouement.

Programme Name: And Then There Were None - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: ++PURE DRAMA++ ++Publication of this image is strictly embrgoed until 18.01 hours Sunday November 8th 2015+++ Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Dr Armstrong (TOBY STEPHENS), William Blore (BURN GORMAN), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), Fred Narracott (CHRISTOPHER HATHERALL) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

All at sea: The guests on their way to Soldier Island

But this is a beautifully produced mini-series that detracts nicely from the contrived nature of the story with stunning photography, discreet period touches and a terrific score.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, it is 1939 and ten strangers from differing backgrounds are lured to remote Soldier Island off the Devon coast for a get-together by the mysterious Mr and Mrs U N Owen. It’s not long before the guests all realise that none of them has ever met either of the Owens, who are absent from the cut-off island.

Aidan Turner as Lombard

One of the advantages of spreading the story over three episodes is that it unfolds slowly, so that tensions beneath the gentility gradually surface before the mayhem begins.

And Then There Were None - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Behind the scenes on the set of And Then There Were None. Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), William Blore (BURN GORMAN) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

Behind the scenes: Maeve Dermody, Aidan Turner, Charles Dance, Burn Gorman and Sam Neill filming And Then There Were None

Topping the cast is Aidan Turner, now burdened with the status of Sex God thanks to that shirtless picture of him in Poldark reprinted 40,000 times by the newspapers. He plays the brooding Irishman Lombard here.

Charles Dance is the retired judge Wargrave, Miranda Richardson the snooty, god-fearing spinster Miss Brent, and Sam Neill plays General MacArthur. The strange atmosphere is helped by the odd servants, played by Noah Taylor and Anna Maxwell Martin.

The rest of the shifty-looking characters are performed by Toby Stephens, Maeve Dermody, Douglas Booth and Burn Gorman.

All of which makes it a rich confection of a show – and perfect for Christmas.

See also:

• My recent feature in the Sunday Mirror: The celebrity kidnap that inspired Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

The Frankenstein Chronicles, ITV Encore, Sean Bean

From Rainmark Films The Frankenstein Chronicles on ITV Encore Pictured: Sean Bean as John Marlott in the new six part series The Frankenstein Chronicles. This photograph is (C) Rainmark Films and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above or ITV plc.

Gruesome task: Sean Bean as Inspector John Marlott

Georgian London is brought thrillingly to life as Sean Bean hunts a ghastly foe

★★★★ ITV Encore, day and date to be announced

VISITORS, don’t worry – CrimeTimePreview hasn’t capriciously decided to cover gothic horror dramas on a whim. This atmospheric and fascinating telling of the Frankenstein tale is actually a monster-mash of the crime and horror genres.

And why not? Everyone from Andy Warhol to Mel Brooks has dabbled with Mary Shelley’s creature, and here director/writer Benjamin Ross and writer Barry Langford have crafted an intriguing journey into the darker recesses of Georgian England.

With Sean Bean heading a cast that includes Anna Maxwell Martin as Shelley and Steven Berkoff as William Blake, it’s a six-parter that rises above your average shock fest or cop procedural. With its well-worked background themes of bodysnatching and abandoned children, the writers have stitched together a story with heart as well as a brain.

Sean Bean is terrific as the investigator Marlott

The year is 1827 and the setting is switched from Switzerland to London. Bean’s Inspector John Marlott is working undercover on the Thames trying to catch opium smugglers when his men discover an ‘abomination’ in the muddy foreshore – a body made from the pieces of eight children.

Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel (Tom Ward) is none too delighted when Marlott brings the ‘object’ to the attention of the authorities. The politician fears it is the fiendish work of opponents of the Anatomy Act, which aims to regulate the practice of surgery and remove the barbers and bodysnatchers that give it a bad name. He wants Marlott to expose the perpetrator of this heinous crime, telling him that ‘details of your investigation must remain confidential’.

[Read more…]

Midwinter of the Spirit, ITV, Anna Maxwell Martin, David Threlfall

From ITV Studios Midwinter Of The Spirit on ITV Pictured: Lol Robinson [Ben Bailey Smith], Rev. Merrily Watkins [Anna Maxwell Martin] and Rev. Huw Owens [David Threlfall]. Merrily is deeply human in her doubts and scepticism, but her knowledge of the paranormal underworld brings her to the notice of local police who need her advice in the investigation of a grisly murder. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc 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

Chill factor: Lol Robinson (Ben Bailey Smith), the Rev Merrily Watkins (Anna Maxwell Martin) and the Rev Huw Owens (David Threlfall)

A crime series with a supernatural twist

★★★½ ITV, starts Wednesday, 23 September, 9pm

GENRE-CROSSING crime series look set to be come a bit of a trend. We’ve recently seen Fox’s Wayward Pines with Matt Dillon, a sci-fi tale with crime elements. ITV Encore’s The Frankenstein Chronicles, starring Sean Bean, ‘reimagines’ the story from the standpoint of a police investigator.

Meanwhile, James Nesbitt has been filming Sky1’s high-concept series Lucky Man, based on comic-book legend Stan Lee’s idea about a detective who finds a magic bracelet that brings him good luck.

And here we have Midwinter of the Spirit, a three-parter that mixes supernatural themes with crime ingredients. It would appear that the cop-drama clogged TV schedules have bled the genre dry, and writers are now juicing the formula up with sci-fi/horror twists.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Merrily

Anyway, the first thing to say about Midwinter is that it does what it says on the tin. It is definitely creepy, helped by the fact that it’s based on Phil Rickman‘s chilling novels and a terrific performance by Anna Maxwell Martin.

She plays the Rev Merrily Watkins, a single mum with a teenage daughter who’s taken on a new role in her small-town parish – that of exorcist. [Read more…]

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, ITV, Jason Watkins, Anna Maxwell Martin PREVIEW

Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
In the spotlight – when police suspicion falls on Jefferies, the media circus consumes him. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: Wednesday, 10 December, 9pm; Thursday, 11 December, 9pm

Story: When Joanna Yeates, the resident of a property he owns, is found murdered, the pedantic and eccentric retired teacher Christopher Jefferies finds himself under suspicion.

ITV HAVE become specialists in dramatising true crime stories that have grabbed national headlines in recent decades. These have sometimes been controversial but usually sensitively produced.

This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, See No Evil: The Moors Murders, The Widower and Appropriate Adult (about Fred West) are all recent examples.

This latest is another considered and absorbing production, following events in 2010 surrounding the murder of Joanna Yeates. It focuses on the media frenzy and vilification of the victim’s landlord, the eccentric – ‘Nutty’ as the headlines had it – Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested for the crime.

Jason Watkins is terrific in the lead

It’s an absorbing drama, with fine performances depicting how the tragic disappearance and murder

Shaun Parkes as Paul Okebu in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
Shaun Parkes as Jefferies’ solicitor

of Joanna Yeates ruptured the everyday normality in this little Bristol community. Jason Watkins is terrific as the pedantic, bookish and eccentrically coiffured Jefferies, hair-spraying his barnet or asking investigating plod if he should correct the spelling on the statement they are taking down from him.

Shaun Parkes is also very good as his solicitor, listening to the detectives going round in circles trying to corner Jefferies with their questions, while he seethes at the injustice visited on his client.

In one telling scene towards the end of the first of this week’s two 90-minutes instalments, Jefferies is finally released from the nick to be confronted by the media character assassination that accompanied his incarceration.

‘Based on true events’ genre

‘Weird’, ‘sinister’, ‘creepy’ scream the headlines, while even the school he work at for 34 years

Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies and Howard Coggins as Custody Officer in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
In custody – Jason Watkins as Jefferies

distances itself from him. In the aftermath of Hackgate, this story is another reminder of how ordinary people can get caught and minced in the grinder of media excess.

Peter Morgan, the writer behind true-life dramatisations such as Frost/Nixon, The Damned United and The Queen, among others, does a fine job of allowing the story to unfold in a sober but compelling way.

The ‘based on true events’ genre is a difficult one to do well and truthfully, but ITV have become masters of the form. I think the value of these stories is that they take us behind the wild headlines and the legal process, giving some small insight into how such dark events could ever have unfolded.

Cast: Jason Watkins Christopher Jefferies, Ben Caplan Charles Chapman, Shaun Parkes Paul Okebu, Nathalie Armin Melissa Chapman, James Lailey Dc Paul Connor, Joe Coen Dc Paul Batty, Ben Frimstone Postman, Anna Maxwell Martin Janine, Matthew Barker Greg Reardon, Carla Turner Joanna Yeates, Joe Sims Vincent Tabak, Jennifer Higham Tanja, Colin Mace Peter Stanley

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Death Comes to Pemberley, BBC1, Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Rhys PREVIEW

Death Comes to Pemberley, BBC, Wickham (MATTHEW GOODE), Darcy (MATTHEW RHYS), Elizabeth Darcy (ANNA MAXWELL-MARTIN), Lydia Wickham (JENNA-LOUISE COLEMAN)
What happened next at Pemberley – Wickham, Darcy, Elizabeth and Lydia. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★ 

BBC1: Boxing Day, 8.15pm

Story: It’s six years since Elizabeth and Darcy married and they now have a young son, Fitzwilliam. On the eve of the magnificent annual ball at Pemberley, a scream calls everyone to the window as a hysterical Lydia – Elizabeth’s wayward youngest sister – tumbles out of a carriage screaming murder…

ALONG WITH Lucan and The Great Train Robbery, this is the best crime drama on this Christmas (before the genre starts firing on all gun cylinders again in January, when the likes of Sherlock and The Bridge will return).

Death Comes to Pemberley, outdoor scene of estate, BBC
Making a splash for the annual ball

This beautiful-looking three-parter is based on crime writer PD James’s inspired homage to that ever-green classic Pride and Prejudice (it’s the book’s 200th anniversary this year), giving the tale of Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin) and Darcy (Matthew Rhys) a suspenseful and murderous twist.

It’s well cast and looks sumptuous. Often lavish costumes and settings cover feeble, fanciful storytelling, but here they perfectly match an intricate mystery that is set, of course, on Darcy’s grand estate. Death Comes to Pemberley‘s story and production lift it above your average chocolate box drama.

Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin

It’s been adapted by Juliette Towhidi (Calendar Girls) and directed with dash by Bafta-winner Daniel

Matthew Rhys stars as Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley, BBC
Matthew Rhys as Darcy

Percival. Matthew Rhys carries off the stern countenance of the master with ease, and Anna Maxwell Martin is equally at home portraying the caring, inquisitive Elizabeth.

She doesn’t have Jennifer Ehle’s twinkle in the classic 1995 BBC serial, but she certainly plays the role like an impulsive young woman who has grown into her greater responsibilities.

It’s the eve of the annual Lady Anne ball at Pemberley and the huge stately home is abuzz with busy domestic staff, and Darcy and Elizabeth overseeing the preparations. Doctor Who‘s Jenna Coleman upsets the calm atmosphere as Elizabeth’s flighty youngest sister Lydia – who eloped with that blackguard Wickham, as you no doubt recall – spills out of a carriage screaming murder.

Murder and marriage

Georgiana (Eleanor Tomlinson) in Death Comes to Pemberley
Who should Georgiana marry?
Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth in Death Comes to Pemberley
Anna Maxwell Martin

George Wickham was planning to gatecrash Darcy’s do, but is discovered at night in the woods by the body of a dead man, Captain Denny, with blood on his hands. Sir Selwyn Hardcastle – a forbidding Trevor Eve – takes charge of the investigation and is soon convinced of Wickham’s wickedness. But did the scoundrel commit the deed?

There are plenty of twists to come, and the reputation of Pemberley is threatened, but there are also interesting subplots adding to the drama, such as the marriage of Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. Should she marry Colonel Fitzwilliam, through a sense of duty, as Darcy favours, or follow her heart and settle with dynamic young lawyer Alveston?

PD James’s story has a satisfying mix of romance and mystery, and will look gorgeous accompanying the Christmas tree lights by the telly.

Cast: Anna Maxwell Martin Elizabeth Bennet, Matthew Rhys Fitzwilliam Darcy, Matthew Goode George Wickham, Trevor Eve Sir Selwyn Hardcastle, Tom Ward Colonel Fitzwilliam, James Norton Henry Alveston, Eleanor Tomlinson Georgiana Darcy, Jenna Coleman Lydia Wickham, Joanna Scanlan Mrs Reynolds, Rebecca Front Mrs Bennet, James Fleet Mr Bennet, Jennifer Hennessy Mrs Bidwell, Lewis Rainer Will Bidwell, Nichola Burley Louisa Bidwell, Philip Martin Brown Bidwell, Tom Canton Captain Denny, Penelope Keith Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Alexandra Moen Jane Bingley

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The Bletchley Circle, ITV, Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Julie Graham, Sophie Rundle PREVIEW

Rachael Stirling, Julie Graham, Anna Maxwell Martin and Sophie Rundle in The Bletchley Circle. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: starts Monday, 6 January, 9pm

Story: The former code-breaking women are reunited for their second case when their old Bletchley Park colleague, Alice Merren, is accused of murder.

THE WOMEN of the Bletchley Circle are a little like traditional comic-book superheroes. They have secret identities as accomplished code crackers from their wartime service at Bletchley Park, which cannot be revealed thanks to the Official Secrets Act.

They also have individual secret powers – superb at maths, brilliant at linguistics and cartography, a photographic memory – which they don’t flaunt before the dozy men who dominate the postwar world.

Susan, Millie, Jean and Lucy are back in action using these skills for a second series as the clandestine crime fighters. Set in 1953, a year after the first series, the fantastic four are reunited when a former colleague from Bletchley, Alice Merren, is charged with murder and faces the noose.

Susan’s still hiding her talent from her husband

The dead man is John Richards (a very small role for Paul McGann), a senior bod at Bletchley with

Hattie Morahan as Alice, who faces the noose

whom Alice (Hattie Morahan) once had an affair. Alice, found with gun in hand, refuses to confess or deny the charge, and the death penalty awaits. Jean believes she is covering for someone and calls her friends together to flex their analytical skills on Alice’s plight.

A problem with series that are commissioned one at a time is that we have to go over old ground to set up the new mystery.

So, Jean (Julie Graham) has to recruit her friends to the cause all over again, which in Susan’s case ain’t easy. Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) pulled the group together in the first series, but was traumatised by that case involving a serial killer and once again has family issues. Her husband, Timothy (Mark Dexter), is as condescending as ever, unaware of Susan’s extraordinary talents, and wants her to carry on looking after the kids when they move abroad for his big promotion.

• Here’s a mystery: why are period crime dramas so popular? Here are some recent ones – Foyle’s War, Agatha Christie’s Marple, Poirot, Father Brown, WPC 56, Endeavour, Boardwalk Empire, Ripper Street, The Lady Vanishes, Spies of Warsaw, The Americans, Peaky Blinders. And some we’ll see soon – Lucan, The Great Train Robbery, Quirke, Death Comes to Pemberley

Paul McGann as John Richards, Alice’s former lover

The opening story, Blood on Their Hands, is a two-parter, and is followed by another, Uncustomed Goods.

The story in series one was more compelling than Blood on Their Hands, involving as it did Susan spotting a pattern in a sequence of murders of female victims. This time round it is more of a straight murder conspiracy, which is interesting but does not explore the women’s gifts as well.

All the female leads are interesting, though, with Lucy (Sophie Rundle) having left her abusive husband, Millie (Rachael Stirling) the most modern of them, and Jean still playing the role of leader that she had during the war.

Bletchley received rave reviews in America

Most of the male characters are either sexist dullards or villains, but the main thrust of Bletchley – women forging new lives in postwar Britain – is captured well, and certainly appealed to ITV’s audience.

The first series was watched by an average of 5.6 million viewers (making it second only to Endeavour as ITV’s best performing new drama last year), and it received rave reviews when it went out on PBS in the US.

It will be interesting if series 2 does as well, as it becomes more of a straight-forward crime drama.

Cast: Anna Maxwell Martin Susan, Rachael Stirling Millie, Julie Graham Jean, Sophie Rundle Lucy, Hattie Morahan Alice, Paul McGann John Richards, Faye Marsay Lizzie, Freddie Anness-Lorenz Sam, Mable Watson Claire, Mark Dexter Timothy, Nick Blood Ben Gladston, Paul Ritter Professor Masters, Tim Pigott-Smith Colonel

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The Bletchley Circle, with Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling PREVIEW

Sophie Rundle as Lucy, Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan, Julie Graham as Jean and Rachael Stirling as Millie. Pic: ITV

Rating: ★★★★ 

ITV1: starts Thursday, 6 September, 9pm 

Story: In 1952, Susan, Millie, Lucy and Jean have returned to their normal lives after distinguished – and secret – service in code breaking during the war. Their humdrum lives hide their brilliant abilities, until Susan – a mathematics expert able to spot and interpret patterns – becomes interested in a series of London murders that have hit the news. In a horrendous series of killings of women, she believes she can see a pattern…

Whodunits can be incredibly tedious, concerned with the cold mechanics of who committed a crime. The Bletchley Circle is something of a whodunit, but with a superb premise and intriguing characters it is way superior to your average mystery.

We’re introduced to the circle of four women in 1943, doing brilliant work at the code-breaking HQ at Bletchley, using their various mathematical and analytical skills to decipher high-level German messages.

Official Secrets Act
Fast-forward nine years and the quartet – Susan, Lucy, Jean and Millie – are leading dull lives as housewives or singletons on civvie street. But the post-war ghastliness of rations and dreariness is increased horribly when we spy someone dragging and molesting the dead body of a woman.

Rachael Stirling as Millie

Susan, now a ‘happily’ married mother of two, has followed the linked murders of four women in the press and on radio. She believes she can see a pattern in the killings, and that the fourth victim is actually the fifth because the fourth body has not yet been found.

Her Bletchley past is of course shrouded by the Official Secrets Act, so that husband Timothy believes she only did clerical work during the war, though he acknowledges that she is good at puzzles. All her frustration at being a housewife whose biggest challenge is making the meat ration last a week is brilliantly captured early on. Are her best years already behind her?

Susan sees a geographic pattern to the murders
So Timothy, while arranging for Susan to meet a senior policeman to explain her theory, is patronising at the same time – ‘You really think that just by listening to the wireless you can tell police where to look for a murder victim?’

Despite serial killers and geographic profiling not being as well understood in the early 1950s, the Deputy Commissioner of Scotland Yard gives Susan the benefit of the doubt, clearly picking up on just how smart she is. However, when the police search doesn’t find a body, Susan is embarrassed and upset.

However, with her wartime friend’s words coming to mind, ‘Never Be Ordinary’, Susan decides she must do something to halt this killer of women, and gets in touch with her old comrades and enlists their help.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan

Anna Maxwell Martin
The Bletchley Circle has its implausibilities, but it is an intelligent and fascinating three-parter, both about the science of solving crimes and the women of this time. The re-creation of the period is very good and convincingly portrays the buttoned-up feel of the times.

Anna Maxwell Martin, whose credits include Bleak House and South Riding, stands out from a good cast as Susan, outwardly respectable and accepting of her life as a housewife, but inwardly boiling with frustration.

Susan and her friends are slightly invisible in these postwar years, and are able to poke their noses into things and hardly be noticed. But knowing how brilliantly clever they are makes their attempt to expose a disturbingly creepy killer very suspenseful.

Cast: Anna Maxwell Martin Susan, Rachael Stirling Millie, Sophie Rundle Lucy, Julie Graham Jean,  Steven Robertson Andrew Croft, Mark Dexter Timothy, Anastasia Hille Angela Barker, Simon Williams Cavendish, Ed Birch Harry, Michael Gould Deputy Commissioner Wainwright, Matthew Cullum Constable Barry, John Lightbody Sergeant George,  Simon Sherlock DCI Compton, Jocelyn MacNab Claire, Elliot Kerley Sam, Jamie Glassman Vicar, Sarah Finigan Mrs Casterwell, Joanna Brookes Mrs Cross

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