|DC Savage (Sylvestra La Touzel) with Leach (Emily Watson) and West (Dominic West). Pics: ITV|
|DC Savage (Sylvestra La Touzel) with Leach (Emily Watson) and West (Dominic West). Pics: ITV|
2011’s TV crimespree blew away the previous year’s good, but not overwhelming, caseload of crime dramas and thrillers. This selection is based on shows that had some heart and emotional depth, rather than the mainstream of whodunits and procedurals. But by all means, fire off your disagreements and preferences in the comments section at the end…
(Pics: BBC, ITV, C4, BSkyB, FX, 5USA)
|Michael C Hall as Dexter|
10 Dexter series 5 FX (UK)
This was probably Dexter’s best outing since series one. It began with our serial killer protagonist in crisis, with his wife, Rita, murdered and his baby son discovered in a pool of her blood, which eerily echoed Dexter’s own childhood trauma. The emotion-less Dexter is disconcerted, perhaps even moved a little, because by being with him, Rita – who thought she was ‘getting a real human being’ – has ended up butchered. The complications mounted for Dex, with his step-sister perplexed by his behaviour and his trying to deflect Lumen Pierce, whom he rescued from another serial killer, from seeking revenge. The conceit of novelist Jeff Lindsay’s creation – serial killer as hero – should not work, but the black humour, the pathos, the character’s deadpan voiceovers and Michael C Hall’s performance makes this an unmissable and original series.
Highlight: Dexter giving Rita’s family and kids the dreadful news that she’s been murdered – but being so disengaged that he forgets to take off his Mickey Mouse ears while doing so.
|Jamie Bamber as DS Devlin|
9 Law & Order: UK series 4 and 5 ITV1
L&O: UK is now such a staple for ITV1 that we’ve had two series of it this year. The spin-off from the original US series earns its place here for its consistently good and tightly packed one-hour dramas, which frequently end on an ambivalent note. The stories also cover tough subjects, crimes by children, a gun rampage or killings by negligent doctors, for instance. The fifth season saw Dominic Rowan and Peter Davison joined the legal side of the cast, while the compelling tales continued without let-up. Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber have been excellent as the chalk-and-cheese detective sergeants, though sadly it looks as though that partnership has come to an end. Lead writer Emilia di Girolamo injected plenty of emotional impact into the last series, and finished it with a stunning cliffhanger…
Highlight: has to be the finale of series five, when DS Matt Devlin was shot outside court.
|Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie|
8 Case Histories BBC1
Novelist Kate Atkinson is not solidly in the crime genre camp, and this hugely enjoyable series caught the narrative quirks, mystery and humour of her writing brilliantly. Jason Isaacs, in a sharp contrast to his American persona in the gangster series Brotherhood, was the engaging and vulnerable tough guy Jackson Brodie, who gets dragged into the world of the Land sisters by Sylvia Syms’s missing moggy. The sisters want Jackson to look into the fate of their missing sister, who vanished 30 years before. Edinburgh is the beautifully shot backdrop, and the cast, including Amanda Abbington as the tough cop with a soft spot for the wayward Jackson, was wonderful.
Highlight: any of Jackson’s scenes with his young daughter, Marlee (Millie Innes).
|Janet Leach (Emily Watson) accompanies Fred West (Dominic West) to a murder site|
7 Appropriate Adult ITV1
Dominic West showed what an accomplished star he is with this unexpected performance as the one-man horrorshow that was real-life serial killer Fred West. It was controversial, but still a haunting and unforgettable dramatisation from the award-winning team that revisited the Yorkshire Ripper and the Moors murders on the small screen. Confronting such revolting crimes in a drama is a way of attempting to gain modest perspective on them, but Appropriate Adult ultimately reinforced the feeling that such killers are beyond our understanding. Written by Neil McKay, the drama cleverly approached the horrendous story from an oblique angle, that of housewife Janet Leach, who was the required Appropriate Adult brought in to chaperone the apparently below-averagely intelligent West – a powerful performance by Emily Watson.
Unforgettable moment: Janet Leach’s uncomprehending expression as West tells detectives about his crimes.
|Will Sully be a Top Boy?|
6 Top Boy Channel 4
Channel 4 is not a top producer of crime dramas, but if it only makes one a year that is as potent as Top Boy then it will be worth waiting for. A four-parter that took a hard look at inner-city drug and gang culture, our escort into this world was 13-year-old Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), whose mother is hospitalised after a breakdown. The programme caught the pressure on young men such as Ra’Nell to ally themselves with gangs for status, but the price exacted by the likes of Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) – both also desperate to be top boys, despite the huge risks – was unflinchingly shown.
Highlight: Raikes telling Dushane he has to give up Sully to the Feds. Reality bites…
5 The Field of Blood BBC1
Based on a Denise Mina novel, this was a gem of a drama that the Beeb seemed almost embarrassed to put out for some reason (10.15pm, Monday night?). But it got a lot of things right. The characters, particularly young Jayd Johnson as Glasgow newspaper ‘copyboy’ Paddy Meehan, were believable and sympathetic, and the 1980s were as sexist and rocking musically as many would have remembered them. David Morrissey played the bullying editor with a heart, and Peter Capaldi was excellent as the old hack. And the story of a young woman with ambitions beyond marriage and a crap job who sets out to discover the truth behind a child murder that has implicated her 10-year-old cousin was captivating. Someone should commission more dramas based on Mina’s novels.
Highlight: Paddy’s character-defining punch-up in the ladies with glamour-puss reporter Heather.
|Steve Buscemi as Nucky|
4 Boardwalk Empire series 1 & 2 Sky Atlantic
Few dramas have the scope and ambition of this HBO epic. From the mega-budget opening episode, it’s been an engrossing attempt to revisit an extraordinary period in American history. Steve Buscemi has been mesmerising as Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the brazenly corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City, whose policy is less Prohibition than anything goes. Melding real historical figures – politicians, government agents and gangsters such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano – with the sweep of the jazz age backdrop has brought this age of political madness vividly to life. And it’s been extraordinary watching the performances of two Brits in the cast – Kelly Macdonald as Margaret, Nucky’s mistress, and Stephen Graham as Capone, who doesn’t look remotely Neapolitan but in every episode appears about to erupt like Vesuvius. It’s won a glut of awards, including eight Emmys, and will return for a third series.
Highlight: the whole of the opener directed by Martin Scorsese – a kaleidoscope of music, partying and corruption.
|Timothy Olyphant as Raylan|
3 Justified series 2 5USA
The second series may have had the edge over the terrific first series, with a strong story arc that saw gun-happy deputy US marshal Raylan Givens facing off with Dixie mafia boss Mags Bennett and her vile sons. The magic of the series, drawn from a character created by the crime writers’ crime writer, Elmore Leonard, is that the setting – a rural Kentucky mining town – is fresh and well depicted, with its clans and bonehead villains and good ol’ boys. However, while Mags (an Emmy-winning performance from Margo Martindale) may have been surrounded by boneheads in her clan, she was sadistic, menacing and well-mannered all at the same time. Timothy Olyphant was again laid-back and almost as cool as Paul Newman in the title role, while Natalie Zea as his on-off-on other half added glamour and attitude. Nick Searcy as Raylan’s put-upon boss, Art Mullen, gave the show heart and a lot of laughs. Series three will be racked and ready in 2012…
Highlight: the deadly confrontation between Raylan and Mags’s son, Coover.
|Watch your back – The Shadow Line|
2 The Shadow Line BBC1
In a strong year for conspiracy thrillers – Hidden, Exile, Page Eight – Hugo Blick’s The Shadow Line stands out. Great cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea, Rafe Spall, Kierston Wareing, Antony Sher – in a creepy and dark story featuring a trio of psychos to give you nightmares. Stephen Rea was unforgettable as the puppetmaster Gatehouse, Rafe Spall pulled off the best nut job since Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, and Freddie Fox simpered as the morally blank Ratallack. Kierston Wareing, who seemed to appear in just about every good crime show this year from The Runaway to Top Boy, was terrific as the sexy, acid-tongued detective sergeant Honey. Blick’s wordy scenes and extraordinary characters created a drama that was not realistic, but felt like a nightmare of foreboding. Midsomer Murders this was not.
Highlight: the moment when Gatehouse finally catches up with the mysterious Glickman, played by Antony Sher. What an amazing showdown.
|Bloody business for Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl)|
1 The Killing series 1 BBC4
It has to be. There had been subtitled crime series around – the Swedish Wallander, for instance – but The Killing, tucked away on BBC4, took everyone by surprise, including the Beeb. It notched up more viewers than Mad Men, set blog comment boxes buzzing (CrimeTimePreview was inundated with feedback from adoring viewers), and showed that mainstream US and UK formats – murder, neat resolution by detective – often lacked any emotional impact at all. This 20-parter did not use the disappearance and murder of teenager Nanna Birk Larsen as a plot device to kick off a voyeuristic mystery, but explored the horrendous emotional shock of the crime on her family and on detective Sarah Lund. The show wasn’t perfect, being over-stretched with red-herrings, but its dark intrigue and whole-hearted performances from the unknown cast (in Britain, at least) – Sofie Gråbøl, Søren Malling, Lars Mikkelsen, Bjarne Henriksen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen – made viewers fascinated with all things Danish and guaranteed a bunch of awards, including a Bafta and several CWA Crime Thiller Daggers.
Highlight: the way Sarah Lund’s initially frosty relationship with her blunt instrument of a colleague, Jan Meyer, evolves silently and without histrionics, so that when Meyer is murdered the moment is shocking and sad.
Single-Handed, Braquo, Spiral, Romanzo Criminale, Garrow’s Law, Exile, Mad Dogs, Martina Cole’s The Runaway, Sons of Anarchy
Ringers – dafter than a very daft thing. Silent Witness – gratuitous and voyeuristic.
Spooks – wiped out by ill-judged decision to schedule it against Downton Abbey. Deserved better.
Letdown of the year
Hidden – started really well, but final episode was such a disappointment.
|Dominic West as Fred West. Pics: ITV|
ITV1 Sunday, 4 September, 9pm
Story: In 1994 Janet Leach, a mother of five from Gloucestershire, is at home making her children’s tea when the phone rings. Janet is on a course that, when completed, will enable her to train as a social worker. She is also on the list of ‘appropriate adults’, volunteers whom the police ask to sit in on interviews with vulnerable people to assist and safeguard their rights. The phone call is request to assist on her first case, that of 52-year-old Frederick Walter Stephen West…
Controversy has preceded this two-part dramatisation about Fred West, the depraved serial killer who is still vivid in memory, his arrest having occurred less than 20 years ago. His surviving daughter, Anne Marie Davis, in particular has condemned ITV1’s production.
Fred West hanged himself while on remand after being charged with 12 murders, his catalogue of crimes also including rape, abduction and child cruelty. Revisiting such events clearly reopens painful memories for all involved.
|Emily Watson as Janet Leach|
Fred West’s disturbing manipulation
Dominic West is chilling as the affable monster Fred, a jovial bumpkin who says on being told police have found a thigh bone in his garden, ‘Can’t think how that got there.’
His self-serving manipulation knows no limits, as he appeals for sympathy as a loving patriarch, portrays himself as trying to help police and clear things up, and then to creepily try to manipulate the shocked Janet Leach.
As the appropriate adult, she has a bond of confidentiality with West, so while he hides some of his crimes from the police, he reveals them to Janet, unsettling her badly.
‘Do I know you from somewhere?’ he says to her at first, and a wave of dismay flashes across her face. Then later, ‘I know you’ve not always been loved and respected,’ and we get a flavour of the way he would worm his way into the confidence of his victims.
|DC Hazel Savage (Sylvestra Le Touzel) with Leach and West|
‘I don’t think I would like to play someone like West again’
It’s a stunning performance from Dominic West, here in a portrayal that could finally overwrite his reputation as McNulty in The Wire.
Filming it was difficult for the actor, who was thankful to be away from his wife and children during the shoot. He says, ‘Had they been around when I was filming, I don’t think I would have been so easily been able to act him. It was only possible in a finite, brief period away from home.
‘It was extraordinarily different to anything I have done before and I don’t think I would like to play someone like him again.’
Monica Dolan as Rosemary
Equally disturbing is Rosemary West, the morally blank, foul-mouthed accomplice of her husband. Actress Monica Dolan dreaded researching her role when she was offered it. When her character sounds off about the inconvenience of the police searching her home or Janet Leach touching her belongings, once again incomprehension is the natural reaction.
This is a sobering film, but sensitively done. It has been painstakingly produced, based on detailed research and producer interviews with Janet Leach (Emily Watson also met her). It aims to tell something of the truth of a place no one wants to dwell.
Welcome to CrimeTimePreview‘s series of interviews with authors about their TV and reading habits.
• 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…
• ADRIAN McKINTY is one of the most acclaimed new crime writers from across the Irish Sea, routinely mentioned alongside Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and John Connolly. His series of edgy thrillers about Catholic detective Sean Duffy and the character’s exploits while working in the none-too-comfortable surroundings of the RUC during the Troubles, and later MI5, are developing a big following and have been hugely praised by reviewers. These include The Cold Cold Ground, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone and Gun Street Girl. Here, he reveals his favourite TV shows, characters and authors…
• WE’VE dragged one of Britain’s major crime practitioners in for questioning. Multi-award-winning IAN RANKIN is the creator of Edinburgh detective inspector John Rebus, the tenacious but chippy hero of bestsellers such as Black and Blue, Fleshmarket Close and Resurrection Men. The character was turned into a series by STV with first John Hannah and then Ken Stott portraying him. ITV filmed Rankin’s standalone novel Doors Open in 2012. After retiring Rebus in Exit Music, he introduced his readers to Malcolm Fox in The Complaints, before bringing Rebus back in 2012’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave.
• Manchester-based crime writer CATH STAINCLIFFE is interrogated below for evidence of her TV viewing and reading activities. She writes the novels based on the Scott & Bailey series, which stars Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones and is soon to return to ITV – with her latest book about the female detectives being Bleed Like Me. Cath is also the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye stories and creator and scriptwriter of Blue Murder, which was on ITV and starred Caroline Quentin.
• Hauled in for questioning is British crime writer and Guardian reviewer LAURA WILSON, who is currently working on her 10th novel. Laura, whose books include the DI Stratton series among other mysteries set in the recent past, talks about her TV and reading habits, from Cagney & Lacey to Agatha Christie…
• ZOE SHARP wrote her first novel when she was 15. It was not until 2001, however, after she had tried her hand at jobs ranging from van driver to newspaper ad sales to motoring correspondent, that she finally publisher her breakout Charlie Fox novel Killer Instinct. Fox, the self-defence instructor with a shady military background, has proved hugely popular with readers through nine novels and has been optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV. We brought Zoë in for questioning to see who she would like to see playing Charlie on screen, and what TV shows tick the right boxes for her…
• CrimeTimePreview apprehended SIMON KERNICK, one of Britain’s most exciting thriller writers to grill him about his viewing proclivities. He arrived on the crime scene with his acclaimed novel The Business of Dying, a terrific story about a corrupt cop who moonlights as a hitman. His authentic thrillers are basedon research with members of Special Branch, the Anti-Terrorist Branch and the Organised Crime Agency. He has just finished writing his latest book, which will be called Siege.
• SOPHIE HANNAH, whose novel The Point of Rescue was recently turned into the drama Case Sensitive by ITV1, is the author of internationally bestselling psychological thrillers – Little Face, Hurting Distance, The Other Half Lives and A Room Swept White. CrimeTimePreview recently brought her in to be questioned about her addiction to Class A plotting on television…
• Scottish author TONY BLACK, creator of Gus Dury in stories such as Gutted and Long Time Dead.
• Belfast crime writer SAM MILLAR, author of books such as The Redemption and the award-winning memoir On the Brinks.
• Crime novelist PAULINE ROWSON, author of the Marine series of mysteries, is pulled into CrimeTimePreview headquarters for questioning.
• Texan crime novelist BILL CRIDER, author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery novels, talks about his favourite television and authors.
• Award-winning British novelist ANN CLEEVES is a serial crime writer, with her collections including amateur sleuths George & Molly, Inspector Ramsay, the soon-to-be-televised Vera Stanhope and the recent Shetland Island Quartet (now a BBC1 series with Douglas Henshall). CrimeTimePreview pulls her in for questioning about her TV habits…
• We brought thriller writer MATT HILTON into headquarters for questioning about his TV and reading activities.
• ALINE TEMPLETON is the author of the series of novels about DI Marjory Fleming, set in Scotland. Her stand-alone mysteries include Past Praying For, The Trumpet Shall Sound and Shades of Death. She lives in Edinburgh. She was brought into CrimeTimePreview HQ for questioning about her TV viewing habits…
• Award-winning crime author STEPHEN BOOTH has written 11 mysteries involving the detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry with a distinctive, sometimes menacing Peak District setting. He was a newspaper and magazine journalist for 25 years before publishing the first Cooper/Fry novel, Black Dog, in 2000. CrimeTimePreview quizzed him about his criminal viewing activities…