Case, Icelandic mystery on Channel 4

Case, Channel 4

In the dark – investigator Gabriela (Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir)

Fans of foreign thrillers set in cold climates should check out this latest intrigue from Iceland

★★★½ Channel 4, Tuesday, 24 January, 10pm

FOR A PLACE that’s so off the beaten track and with such a tiny population (332,000), Iceland is certainly making its presence felt on the crime-thriller TV scene.

BBC4 gave us the brilliant Trapped last year, and now Channel 4 has this new series in its Walter Presents strand. It begins with the discovery of a teenage ballet student who is found hanged on the stage of a dance school in Reykjavik.

In a multi-stranded story we meet the unglamorous cop partners Gabriela and Hogni, the ladies’ man attorney Logi, who has a group of female punk types hacking for him, and a variety of characters from the young victim’s life.

The director of Trapped, Baldvin Zophoniasson, is on duty here, too. It’s a skilfully told and gritty mystery about abuse, corruption and scandal. It was a huge hit in Iceland and has been acclaimed by the New York Times.

Case, Channel 4

Young and innocent? Julius and Elfa

Babylon, C4, James Nesbitt, Brit Marling PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★½

Channel 4: starts Thursday, 13 November, 10pm

Story: Director of Communications Liz Garvey begins in earnest the job of trying to drag the police into the new media age. Meanwhile, it’s the job of Commissioner Richard Miller, Deputy Commissioner Charles Inglis and Assistant Commissioner Sharon Franklin to keep the force ticking over. 

FOLLOWING its well-received pilot episode back in February, Babylon is back on the beat for a six-part run of law and disorder.

It’s firmly in the realm of the Beeb’s nice little dig at the London Olympics in Twenty Twelve, poking fun at modern marketing speak and corporate arse-covering, rather than being a biting satire about the Metropolitan Police.

Let’s face it, the Met, with its rap sheet of controversies over Stephen Lawrence, the undercover surveillance, Hackgate and the rest, is hardly a laughing matter.

Brit Marling as Liz

So, Babylon – exec-produced by Danny Boyle – has fun with the media and management side of the

force, starting with American media guru Liz Garvey (Brit Marling) and the floundering honchos Commissioner Miller (James Nesbitt, a long way from Missing here), his deputy, Inglis (Paterson Joseph), and assistant Franklin (Nicola Walker).

And here is one of the strengths of the show – the cast are fun to watch, particularly Nicola Walker as the eye-rolling assistant commissioner, dealing with incompetence from above, below and from the private sector.

The opening episode sees her officers called in to help the private security firm running a young offenders institution when violence breaks out. Meanwhile, Paterson Joseph’s deputy commissioner is busy trying to work out whether to tell the world the incident is a disturbance, a severe disturbance or a riot.

Video of Warwick shooting an unarmed assailant 

Writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong delight in showing us this world in which police high-flyers

are more concerned with appearances than getting things done.

Brit Marling is also a great spanner in the works as Liz, trying to get her boss Commissioner Miller to be a little less passive-aggressive in his dealings with the media, while also boring her female colleagues stupid in the wine bar after work by banging on about the Met’s ‘brand’.

The lower ranks also have to deal with her new ideas. Armed response office Warwick’s nerves are shredded when she releases footage of him shooting an unarmed assailant in a show of openness from the Met – the public think we’re all ‘trigger-happy meatheads’.

Er, no comment.

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Fargo Ch4, with Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Bob Odenkirk

No, it’s not Elmer Fudd, but insurance man Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). Pics: Ch4

Rating: ★★★ 

Channel 4: starts Sunday, 20 April, 9pm 

Story: Timid, henpecked insurance salesman Lester Nygaard is waiting in a hospital reception after a nose-breaking encounter with the guy who used to bully him at high school. He strikes up a conversation with a vengeful drifter, Lorne Malvo – a chance meeting that drastically changes his life.

SOME MOVIES are so adored and revered that TV honchos just can’t resist paying tribute to them – or should that be can’t resist cashing in on them.

Anyway, we’ve had the recent well-received TV re-imaginings of Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal and the Bates Motel reboot of Psycho. The latest is this 10-parter inspired by the Coen brothers’ beautifully observed 1996 classic crime caper-gone-wrong Fargo.

Car crash waiting to happen – Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton)

The first thing to say is that none of these transfers come close to surpassing or even capturing the scintillating originality of the movies. That’s too much to expect, so to be any good they need to cut a new TV path for themselves.

Lorne Malvo is a timebomb

Hannibal and Bates Motel have made it to second seasons, and Fargo shows a lot of promise in that regard.

The cast is really enticing, from Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton in the leads, to Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk as a cop who can’t stand the sight of gore, and newcomer Allison Tolman as tyro investigator Molly Solverson in the nowheresville town of Bemidji.

While she bears some resemblance to Frances McDormand’s iconic character Marge in the movie, and Freeman’s timid insurance man Lester Nygaard recalls William H Macy’s brilliantly stupid and greedy

Cops Solverson and Oswalt

Jerry Lundegaard, these are mere echoes of the original. The series has a totally fresh plot.

Lester meets Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo in a hospital waiting room after a run-in with the thug who used to bully him at high school. Malvo is a timebomb of malevolence and vengeance, and the most compelling character here, almost on a par with Anton Chigurh in the Coen’s No Country for Old Men.

Lester Nygaard v Jerry Lundegaard

You know the moment Malvo says to Lester ‘I would have killed that man’ that Lester’s life has taken a turn for the destructive. Thornton, veteran of off-beats such as that other Coen flick The Man Who Wasn’t There and 2003’s Bad Santa, brings the right level of crazed certainty to Malvo to make him watchable all the way.

Martin Freeman is good as Lester, but his character is not as well drawn as Jerry Lundegaard, whose catalogue of moronic blunders had a strange, stupid logic to them. Lester’s descent is abrupt and lurid.

Lester runs into his old high school bully, Sam Hess

But the setting is again stark and beautiful, those long highways cutting through endless snowscapes. It makes a decent fist of capturing the movie’s wonderful portrayal of ‘Minnesota nice’ and the local speech with its Nordic roots. So everyone says ‘oh hun’, ‘yah’ and ‘jeez’.

By the end of the opener there’s a lot of bloodshed and a good level of black humour. And with a host of interesting secondary characters still to appear, Fargo the TV show is looking like a good place to chill out.

Cast: Billy Bob Thornton Lorne Malvo, Martin Freeman Lester Nygaard, Allison Tolman Molly Solverson, Bob Odenkirk Bill Oswalt, Colin Hanks Gus Grimly, Joey King Greta Grimly

Try these links…

Fargo Channel 4
Bates Motel CrimeTimePreview
Hannibal CrimeTimePreview
Review NY Daily News

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Fargo with Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman coming to C4

FOX TV’s new series version of the Coen brother’s classic crime-gone-wrong movie Fargo will hit Channel 4 in the UK soon after it goes out in the US in April.

The 10-parter stars Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa, Friday Night Lights) as Lorne Malvo, a rootless, manipulative type who derails the life of insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by Sherlock‘s Martin Freeman.

The 1996 original, starring Steve Buscemi, William H Macy and Frances McDormand, was a typically offbeat Coen creation, darkly humorous and grim in places. The series will feature an all-new ‘true crime’ story (the original had this label, but was actually based on ‘true’ events from several cases).

Colin Hanks (Dexter, Parkland) plays Duluth Police Deputy Gus Grimly, a single dad who must choose between his own personal safety and his duty as a police officer when he comes face-to-face with a killer. Rounding out Fargo’s cast of recurring characters is Emmy-winner Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad), who plays Deputy Bill Olson.

Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man, True Grit) are among the exec producers.

Channel 4 Chief Creative Officer Jay Hunt says, ‘Fargo is a perfect Channel 4 show – a dark comedy, beautifully directed with a stunning cast. We are excited to be bringing it to a British audience.’

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Babylon, Ch4, with Brit Marling, James Nesbitt, Jill Halfpenny, Paterson Joseph PREVIEW

Martin Trenaman, Jim Howick, Cavan Clerkin, Jill Halfpenny, Adam Deacon, Paterson Joseph, Bertie Carvel, Brit Marling, James Nesbitt, Ella Smith, Jonny Sweet, Nick Blood, Stuart Martin, Andrew Brooke and Daniel Kaluuya, in Ch4's Babylon
London’s thin blue line in Babylon. Pics: Ch4

Rating: ★★★½

Channel 4: starts Sunday, 9 February, 9pm

Story: London’s police force is in need of a public image revamp. And Chief Constable Richard Miller has found just the woman to do it. Liz Garvey is an American visionary from the world of new media parachuted in to revolutionise the force’s PR department…

‘DO NOT TASER my knob-end,’ says a guy at home facing armed fire-arms officers in the opening moments of Babylon, his knob-end a-dangle because he was in the lavvie as they battered his street door in.

In a nutshell, this intro captures the chaos at the heart of this off-kilter comedy-drama. It’s bit of a cross between Twenty Twelve, last year’s very funny Olympic satire, and The Thick of It.

Babylon takes a similarly jaundiced view of the arse-covering and ineptitude behind the scenes of a major public service in the age of social media and instant news management.

Directed by Danny Boyle

James Nesbitt as Richard Miller and Jonny Sweet as Tom Oliver, in Ch4's Babylon
James Nesbitt as Richard Miller; Jonny Sweet as Tom Oliver

The only slight disappointment is that the hilarious beginning isn’t followed through. The police and the public relations worlds take direct hits in some delightful scenes, but as Babylon settles down into a pacy narrative about the Metropolitan police hierarchy fumbling a major incident involving a random gunman on the loose in London, the tone becomes less humorous.

So in order not be disappointed, it’s important to know what kind of show this is. As Jesse Armstrong, who wrote Babylon with Sam Bain, says, ‘It quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to become a sitcom version of the police. I would really say that it’s more of a drama than a comedy drama, even.’

Director Danny Boyle – whose creative credibility is sky high following last year’s Olympics opening ceremony and hits such as Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting – drives the story with verve and thumping beat, as we spin round documentary-style with the cops on the street or the brass at police HQ.

Brit Marling as PR guru Liz Garvey

Brit Marling as Liz Garvey, in Ch4's Babylon
Brit Marling as Liz Garvey

Central to the story is Brit Marling (Arbitrage, Another Earth) as PR guru Liz Garvey, who takes over the Met’s PR operation and believes in ‘transparency’ – not the first quality one associates with the police.

Her first day is consumed by a crisis, as a gunman goes on the rampage. While Liz wants to make statements and be straight with the media, Chief Constable Richard Miller (James Nesbitt) is concerned about saying anything for which he might be ‘crucified’.

Paterson Joseph is excellent as Miller’s deputy, who is superb at not making decisions for which he might be held accountable, and we get to ride alongside the police at the sharp end, who range from the competent Territorial Support officer Davina (Jill Halfpenny) to nutter Robbie (Adam Deacon).

Six-part series to follow

Jill Halfpenny as TSG officer Davina, in Ch4's Babylon
Jill Halfpenny as TSG officer Davina

Nicola Walker is underused, but this is a 90-minute pilot. Presumably, she will feature more when the six-part series, which starts shooting in the spring, follows later.

Babylon a bit scattergun, but it has wonderful performances, is extensively researched and shifts along with the urgency of a Specialist Firearms Unit.

Anyone who blanches at a lot of swear words should stay away. But once the series gets into its groove it has the potential to become a razor-sharp drama that breaks out of the cop procedural/whodunit formula littering the TV schedules.

Cast: Brit Marling Liz Garvey, James Nesbitt Chief Constable Richard Miller James Robinson Mr Lovett, Adam Deacon TSG Officer Robbie, Paterson Joseph Deputy Commissioner Charles Inglis, Daniel Kaluuya Matt Coward, Nick Blood Warwick, Andrew Brooke Officer Neil, Deborah Rosan Reporter, Lee Nicholas Harris Desk Sergeant, Jill Halfpenny TSG Officer Davina

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Homeland 3, Ch4, with Claire Danes, Damian Lewis PREVIEW

Damian Lewis as Brody and Claire Danes as Carrie in Homeland 3
Damian Lewis and Claire Danes in Homeland 3. Pics: Ch4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Sunday, 6 October, 9pm

Story: Almost three months after America’s ‘Second 9/11’, alleged Langley bomber Nick Brody remains at large.

HOMELAND was carefully primed in its debut season, but blew up in the faces of its makers in series two, with a credibility-snapping plot that released all the thriller’s tension.

Happily, the drama’s rediscovered its mojo. Season three powers back with in gripping style with bags

Carrie is questioned by the Senate in Homeland 3
Carrie in the Senate hot seat

of paranoia, high-level dirty tricks and Carrie going off the rails again.

She has good reason, in fairness. Hung out to dry before a behind-closed-doors Senate investigation, she faces hostile questioning as damaging documents about her and the CIA’s failures are leaked from an unknown source to the senators.

Claire Danes is superb again

It is three months after the Langley bombing, which killed 219 people and for which the missing Brodie is blamed. The CIA is in the doghouse and Carrie and Saul’s closeness to traitor-turned-double agent Brodie is clearly deeply compromising.

But it is Carrie that’s getting all the flak, and as she is off her lithium medication again, the pressure is sending her into frantic overdrive. Claire Danes is once again in can’t-tear-your-eyes-away form as the agent on the edge.

Rupert Friend as Quinn in Homeland 3
Quinn (Rupert Friend) seeks his quarry

Saul, meanwhile, is trying to restore some cred to the agency by taking out six high-level conspirators in the Langley bombing all at the same time. This on its own is a nail-biting strand of the opener, but it is woven brilliantly into the dark machinations around Carrie as well as Jess, now on hard times, trying to cope with Dana’s recovery from her suicide bid.

Homeland is back in the zone

F Murray Abraham returns as Dar Adal to prowl round Saul, prompting the latter’s suspicion that it might be Adal leaking documents to destroy Carrie.

One character who hasn’t returned is Brody – but he will. This may disappoint some viewers of episode one, but his non-show is quite a shrew dramatic move as his non-appearance hangs over all the characters and the rogue congressman’s re-appearance will be all the more dramatic.

F Murray Abraham as Adal in Homeland 3
The ever watchful Dar Adal (F Murray Abraham)

Pushing Homeland beyond what was a tightly plotted, if slightly unbelievable, first season looked like a mistake after season two was such a dreary letdown.

But the new series, which goes out on Ch4 seven days after the US, looks full of compelling and topical intrigue, with its enemies-within theme and well-developed characters throughout. It deserves a good audience, as well, with so many fine actors on hand to bring it to life.

Cast: Claire Danes Carrie Mathison, Damian Lewis Nicholas Brody, Rupert Friend Peter Quinn, Morena Baccarin Jessica Brody, Jackson Pace Chris Brody, Morgan Saylor Dana Brody, Sarita Choudhury Mira Berenson, Tracy Letts Andrew Lockhart, F. Murray Abraham Dar Adal, Mandy Patinkin Saul Berenson, James Rebhorn Frank Mathison, Tim Guinee Scott Ryan, Sam Underwood Leo Carras, Amy Morton Erin Kimball, Pedro Pascal David Pantillo

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Southcliffe Ch4, with Rory Kinnear, Eddie Marsan, Shirley Henderson, Sean Harris

Stephen Morton (played by Sean Harris) Channel 4 Southcliffe
Sean Harris as Stephen Morton in Southcliffe. Pics: Channel 4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Sunday, 4 August, 9pm

Story: As dawn breaks in the sleepy market town of Southcliffe, the unmistakable sound of gunshots rings out…

SUNDAY NIGHT is often reserved for costume fantasies such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs. Well, this week Channel 4 is ditching that custom and scheduling a four-parter that should be accompanied by a large whisky rather than a cosy Horlicks.

Southcliffe is the story of a random shooting spree by a loner in a quiet English market town. It is beautifully filmed with almost documentary intensity. It is unsettling, but really sucks you into these ordinary lives, one of which is hurtling horrendously out of control.

David Whitehead (played by Rory Kinnear) and Anthony (played by Al Weaver). Ch4 Southcliffe
Rory Kinnear is the reporter, David Whitehead

At the forefront of the drama is Steve Morton (Sean Harris – The Borgias, Prometheus), a misfit who is so intense he is always standing alone at the bar of his local, as though surrounded by a hostile force field. He is jokingly called the Commander by the locals, mocking his military garb.

Southcliffe and Broadchurch

He claims to have served with the SAS, trains with masochistic intensity and has a small arsenal in his container hideaway. He also cares for his fragile invalid of a mother, who has dementia.

Southcliffe is following ITV’s Broadchurch to some extent in offering a portrait of a community devastated by murder. The town itself, rooted solidly in Anglo Saxon England (it’s filmed in Faversham, Kent), has a military regiment and there are layers of pain among the servicemen we meet there.

Louise (played by Hayley Squires) and Chris Cooper (played by Joe Dempsie) Ch4 Southcliffe
Louise (Hayley Squires) and Chris (Joe Dempsie)

Chris (Joe Dempsie – Skins), who has just returned from Afghanistan to his doting wife, Louise (Hayley Squires), is bought a drink by Steve and tells him that combat was ‘the best fun you can have’. He seems unscathed, but he is secretly taking a lot of medication.

Steve stalks Chris through the forest

Chris’s army friend dies in hospital from wounds he received. And then there is Steve, who seems affronted by Chris apparently having had a ‘good’ war. He offers to help Chris get into shape for the SAS, but instead brutally stalks him through the forest.

‘I think you need help,’ say Chris, in the understatement of the year. It is this incident that tips events towards disaster

Rory Kinnear (Count Arthur Strong, Skyfall) also stars as cynical, bitter reporter David who grew up in Southcliffe and returns to cover the story. Shirley Henderson and Eddie Marsan play a local couple. All of these characters come to the fore after episode one, when the feelings of grief and guilt come to the surface among residents. David, for example, realises he knew the killer many years before…

Channel 4’s on a roll

Paul Gould (played by Anatol Yusef) Ch4 Southcliffe
Paul (Anatol Yusef), right, was Steve’s boss

Southcliffe is directed by Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and written by Tony Grisoni, who gave us the equally hard-punching Red Riding. He’s done a great job in creating a group of complex, believable figures here, though it is hard to fathom why he told The Guardian that Southcliffe was not about a spree shooting, but rather a story about ‘people robbed of someone very close to them’. That’s true, but the shooting and Steve’s character are also powerful, defining elements in the drama.

Whatever… Channel 4 must be applauded for commissioning such a challenging, mature drama, one that steps away from the formulaic procedurals and whodunits on the other sides. Southcliffe also follows The Mill on Sunday night, making Channel 4 the place to be this weekend.

Part 2 of Southcliffe is on Monday night.

Cast: Sean Harris Stephen Norton, Rory Kinnear David Whitehead, Shirley Henderson Claire Salter, Eddie Marsan Andrew Salter, Hayley Squires Louise, Joe Dempsie Chris Cooper, Anatol Yusef Paul Gould, Coral Amiga Mattie, Paul Blackwell Police officer, Mickey Morris Young Stephen

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Run, C4, Olivia Colman, Lennie James, Jaime Winstone, Neil Maskell PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: Monday 15-Thursday 18 July, 10pm

Story: Four seemingly unconnected stories about people at crunch moments in their lives, including single-mum Carol, whose sons are wanted by the police, and illegal immigrant Ying…

HATS OFF TO CHANNEL 4 for steering clear of the period dramas and cop procedurals we see so much of on the other sides.

Last year they gave us the thought-provoking Murder: Joint Enterprise (which will return), earlier this year we had the jaunty but not entirely successful Utopia. Now C4 is stripping this new rough-edged, four-part drama through the week.

Olivia Colman

Outside of Jimmy McGovern, most TV dramas steer clear of working-class life these days. Run, however, is an honest attempt to bring talented established stars and newcomers together to tell four linking tales that take a walk on the poverty-stricken side of Britain that goes on all around us.

Olivia Colman ditches that nice detective persona from Broadchurch to play a foul-mouthed single mum, bringing up two teenage boys who have few redeeming features. Dean batters his girlfriend Tracey, while Terry tags along.

Carol herself is the kind of woman who is vilified in the media these days for not being middle-class enough. She is coarse, ignores Dean giving Trace a ‘slap’ and nicks stuff from the warehouse where she works. She lives on an estate, is separated from her psycho boyfriend, played sublimely by Neil Maskell, and is fighting to hold her life of tears and fags together.

Carol discovers her sons’ secret

It is while Dean is dragging Trace around by the hair in a car park that a passerby sees him, and carries on passing by. Being a nutter, Dean wants to know what the stranger is looking at, before joining forces with his brother to beat the man to death. Downton Abbey it ain’t.

Carol has an inkling that something’s wrong when she finds the boys’ bloody clothes in the laundry. When she suggests to their father they should tell the police it was an accident, Kieran – whose normal mode of communication is with his fists – punches her.

Run is created and written by newcomers Marlon Smith and Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and succeeds in

getting us to see the world through Carol’s eyes. It’s brutal, and the language will make your eyes water at times. But for all its bleakness, it finds the traces of humanity that still bind people together despite their poverty and lack of opportunities.

Part two follows up with Ying’s story. We’ve seen her buying stolen goods from Carol, but learn that Ying (Katie Leung) is an illegal immigrant facing a painful future in debt to a Snakehead gang. Wednesday’s story is about struggling heroin addict Richard (Lennie James), and Thursday’s about Kasia (Katharina Schuttler), a Polish woman in London who is struggling to make a living while contending with her gambling-addict boyfriend.

Hard-hitting and affecting, the stories are well-acted and refreshingly frank.

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