Luther 4, BBC1, with Idris Elba

Luther series 4, Idris Elba

On the edge: DCI John Luther (Idris Elba)

An abominable serial killer is hunted by Luther, who’s still haunted by Alice

★★★ BBC1, day and time to be announced

LUTHER IS BACK, and the new series is as nutty and nasty as ever.

A drama about a genius detective who is daft enough to fall for a genius female psychopath is always going to be a believability-stretcher, but Luther has nevertheless gained a cult-like status. Series one even got 94 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, today’s final word in critical assessment.

Idris Elba is undoubtedly the key ingredient to its attraction. The actor has enough charisma and conviction to sweep fans along and make the bonkers stories seem almost rational. The other standout feature is the distinctively creepy London atmosphere it creates.

But Neil Cross‘s series is gratuitously nasty. We have a terrified woman being slashed by a lunatic within the first few minutes of this two-parter’s opening episode. Naked blood-spattered corpses, a ‘Bedlamite’ killer who is a devotee of ‘cannibal erotica’ and eats body parts, in addition to a character nailed to a table combine to push the series to the limits of what is acceptable on BBC1.

Rose Leslie and Darren Boyd

Anyway, we find Luther on leave of absence as the action begins, living in a rundown cottage virtually on top of the White Cliffs of Dover. Detectives Emma Lane and Theo Bloom, played by Darren Boyd (Fortitude) and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), visit him with news of Alice Morgan’s death after she has some escapades in Berlin, Madrid and Antwerp.

Luther, BBC1, DCI Theo Bloom (DARREN BOYD), DS Emma Lane (ROSE LESLIE) - (C) BBC

This case stinks: DCI Theo Bloom (Darrren Boyd) and DS Emma Lane (Rose Leslie)

We last saw fiendishly illusive killer Alice – the series’ other major-league presence in Ruth Wilson – at the end of series three, when Luther had needed her help in clearing himself of a murder charge. The big tease is, is she really dead? Luther can’t believe anyone could have got the better of her, and it would certainly set the story alight if she returns. [Read more…]

The Guilty ITV, with Tamsin Greig, Darren Boyd, Katherine Kelly PREVIEW

The Guilty ITV TAMSIN GREIG as DC Maggie Brand, KATHERINE KELLY as Claire Reid and DARREN BOYD as Daniel Reid
Tamsin Greig, Katherine Kelly and Dominic Boyd in The Guilty. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: starts Thursday, 5 September, 9pm

Story: Following an annual neighbourhood barbecue, Claire and Daniel Reid frantically search for their little boy Callum when they awake to find him missing. Five years later, DC Maggie Brand investigates the disappearance following the discovery of a body, while at the same time coping with her own son’s diagnosis with autism.

THE GUILTY IS one of those reasonably decent whodunits that pop up on UK telly a lot and are about average people in ordinary settings. The problem is, sometimes they are so ordinary that they make little impression.

It’s in the same neighbourhood as series such as The Ice Cream Girls, Mayday, The Poison Tree, A Mother’s Son and The Last Weekend – dramas that were OK, but which don’t linger in the memory.

Little boy Callum disappears from home during the night after his parents have gone to a neighbourhood barbecue. Five years later his mother, Claire, played by former Corrie star Katherine Kelly, holds out hope that he will still be found.

The Guilty ITV ARSHER ALI as DS Vinesh Roy and TAMSIN GREIG as DC Maggie Brand
Under pressure – DCI Brand (Tamsin Greig)

Tamsin Greig is DCI Brand

However, when a body is discovered  in a park area near their home, the case gets a new spurt of momentum and DCI Maggie Brand – Tamsin Greig, leaving the comedies behind for now – leads the investigation. It’s a case that ruined her former boss’s career.

The three-parter flits skilfully between the disappearance in 2008 and today, and we see Brand piecing together the secrets behind the suburban idyll.

In the opener, we get the events on the night of the barbecue, when the boozing gets out of hand, marital jealousies flare and violence erupts. Everyone appears to be dodgy – Claire’s husband, played by Darren Boyd, the nanny and her creepy boyfriend, the flirty neighbour, the old boy from down the road…

The problem for writer Debbie O’Malley is that she has just three episodes to flesh out her characters, who can seem unconvincing at times (Broadchurch clearly benefited from being eight episodes long). So, Brand’s stroppy colleague Ron, for instance, comes across as a bit of a cardboard mouthy sidekick.

The Guilty ITV POOKY QUESNEL as Ruth and KATHERINE KELLY as Claire Reid.
The barbecue from hell – Ruth (Pooky Quesnel) and Claire (Katherine Kelly)

Katherine Kelly is the drama’s emotional heart

Katherine Kelly, who cites Breaking Bad as one of her favourite dramas because of its distinctive characters, is one of the strongest figures in the drama. Claire goes from being naively optimistic to hellbent on finding her son’s abductor.

While she does the emotional fireworks, Tamsin Greig is more po-faced as the stoical, low-key detective coping with the depressing case, office politics and her son’s difficulties at school. An interesting aspect of the story is the unspoken bond between these two mothers.

Given the constraints of a mini-series, The Guilty does manage to deliver the one prerequisite of the whodunit – twists aplenty. As the action switches to Germany in episode two and the Reids’ marriage comes under strain, there are several big surprises in store for DCI Brand.

The Guilty ITV DANIEL RUNACRES-GRUNDSTROM as Callum Reid
Before the abduction, the neighbourhood is relaxed

Cast: Darren Boyd Daniel Reid, Tamsin Greig DCI Maggie Brand, Katherine Kelly Claire Reid, Daniel Runacres-Grundstrom Callum Reid, Tommy Potten Sam Colman, Pooky Quesnel Ruth Hyde, Jude Foley Older Luke Reid, Alan Williams Frank Lawson, Jamie Sives Jeb Colman, William Ellis Malcolm James, Linda Marlowe Lynn Brand, Arsher Ali DS Vinesh Roy, Adam Kotz Dr Mike Rowntree, Madlen Meyer Nina Huber, Teddy Fitzpatrick Young Luke Reid, Joe Zanetti Felix Hyde, Milo Twomey Joe Wightman, Theo Barklem-Biggs Jason Byrne, Glen Wallace Sean O’Donnell, Ruta Gedmintas Teresa Morgan, Jay Simpson DC Ron Singer

See also:

The Guilty ITV

The Guardian: Is The Guilty the new Broadchurch?

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Case Sensitive series 2, starring Olivia Williams PREVIEW

Darren Boyd and Olivia Williams as Waterhouse and Zailer. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV1: Thursday, 12 July, 9pm

Story: Teacher Ruth Blacksmith has left her husband, Jason, for troubled musician Aidan. Jason has gone into an alcoholic decline, losing his job at the same school as his wife. Ruth wants a divorce and is looking forward to a new life with Aidan, until the love triangle results in murder.

The good news for anyone who enjoyed the first series of Case Sensitive is that Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd are back as Zailer and Waterhouse. The bad news is that there is just one two-part story to feast on.

The two detectives feature in the acclaimed psychological suspense novels of Sophie Hannah, and her story The Other Half Lives is the basis for this new mini – or should that be micro? – series.

Tormented love twisted into obsession is the theme here, as teacher Ruth is involved in a passionate affair with Aidan, a piano teacher who is a gifted pianist on the quiet. The trouble is that the husband Ruth is divorcing to be with Aidan – Jason – has just turned up stabbed to death.

Charlie lets off steam at a kick-boxing class

Love is in the air
Initially, Aidan and Ruth’s plight is a little hard to empathise with. He is a bit cold and creepy, and she seems impulsive and ditzy. However, the skill in the storytelling opens up new dimensions to the characters and their pasts that make this a tragic, sensitive mystery.

But the two-parter’s most intriguing storyline is actually what is going on between colleagues DS Charlie Zailer and DC Simon Waterhouse. Love, or lust, is in the air, as signified by the fact that the pair is constantly covering up the tension between them by talking testily at cross purposes, and that Zailer is primed to chew out any young female she spots talking to her deputy – watch out, DC Amber Williams.

Charlie’s lack of reason is a nice counterpoint to the jealousy or possessiveness that has led to Jason’s murder. By the end of the drama, viewers will certainly want to know what will happen next between the two detectives.

Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd

Suspect – did Aidan kill his lover’s husband

Olivia Williams looks and acts pretty much like you’d imagine a typical modern police detective to be – not overly glam, good at her job, but having made personal sacrifices that may be taking their toll on her happiness. And together with Darren Boyd, here stepping away from his normal comedy roles, they make a believable, contrasting couple. An audience of nearly 7million certainly warmed to them in series one.

However, the BBC and ITV have been coming under criticism for their lack of ambition in drama, as the huge success of Scandi-noirs such as The Killing and The Bridge, along with the big US successes from HBO, expose how small-scale most UK series are.

And it is a shame that Sophie Hannah’s novel has to be crunched into two hours, which creates some head-scratching moments (would Charlie visit the husband even though no crime’s been reported, on the basis that he might harm Ruth in the future?).

Tensions rise between Charlie and Simon

Make British crime dramas longer and more ambitious
Ian Rankin, one of the UK’s best crime authors (whose Rebus books were not brilliantly translated to TV), recently said he was jealous of the 20-hours the Scandinavians could devote to a series, leaving plot, characters and location ‘room to breathe’.


The Other Half Lives is a good mystery – and will be switched on to eagerly by sport-saturated viewers this summer – but how much better would the much-loved books of British crime authors be if they were given more room to breathe?

Cast: Olivia Williams DS Charlie Zailer, Darren Boyd DS Simon Waterhouse, Eva Birthistle Ruth Blacksmith, Peter Wight DI Proust, Theo James Aidan Harper, Emily Beecham Mary Trelease, Ralph Ineson DC Colin Sellers, Christina Chong DC Amber Williams

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Dirk Gently series 2 starring Stephen Mangan PREVIEW

Chaos reigns with Dirk and Macduff. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC Four, starts Monday, 5 March, 9pm

Story: It seems a bit mad to try to sum up the plot, but it begins with Dirk receiving a hate Valentine’s card, and proceeds to a paranoid client – who fears the Pentagon is trying to kill him – turning up dead. It is rounded off with Dirk being asked by a wife to investigate her adulterous husband, who also employs the sleuths to find out why his horoscopes are coming true. How are these random cases interconnected? Just watch…

Random mysteries are about to collide as holistic detective Dirk Gently returns for three new investigations. ‘Embrace the chaos,’ as the unorthodox sleuth says – and for those viewers who can, this second helping of Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide) Adams’s creation is totally logical.

Scary (unpaid) receptionist Janice (Lisa Jackson)

Stephen Mangan’s take on the rather dodgy and egocentric private eye was unveiled by the Beeb in 2010, so there’s been quite a lag between adventures. Since then Mangan’s been seen in the  laughter-lite sitcom Episodes with Matt LeBlanc, which, surprisingly, has been recommissioned.

Trust to randomness and chaos
Dirk Gently is a more modest show that still provides plenty of grin-inducing moments, without rupturing the laughter muscles. Mangan, who’s proved expert in playing chancers since he hit the limelight in Green Wing, and Darren Boyd, as his assistant/partner Macduff, are a good pairing as the bickering sleuths who veer between incompetence and genius in solving cases for usually non-paying clients.

Laughing policemen – cop shows with a twist of humour
  • Castle – amateur sleuthing and flirting between a detective and a novelist: C5 from Wed, 7 March
  • A Touch of Cloth – Charlie Brooker’s spoof starring John Hannah, Suranne Jones: Sky 1, April

There’s something reassuring about a series that takes the detective genre staples – a conspiracy theory and adulterous husband in this opener – along with life’s problems and treats them as offshoots of sod’s law. ‘Trust to randomness and chaos to solve the case,’ says Dirk to Macduff, who replies at one point, ‘Bollocks.’

Jilted wife Emma (Cosima Shaw)

The brown Austin Princess
So, crime fans who love to unravel a teasing plot should look elsewhere for other series that have more reasonable storylines (no, not Midsomer Murders).

You watch Dirk Gently to marvel at his brown Austin Princess, the crazed whimsy of his deductions and the silliness of Howard Overman’s script. ‘He has less chance of being murdered than you or I,’ says Dirk of their ‘paranoid’ client, as he and Macduff walk in to find the man’s corpse.

Helen Baxendale
Macduff’s level-headed girlfriend, Susan (Helen Baxendale), is not in episode one, but she features in the next story, which should stir things nicely.

Cast: Stephen Mangan Dirk, Darren Boyd Macduff, Jason Watkins DI Gilks, Lisa Jackson Janice, Paul Ritter Oliver, Cosima Shaw Emma, Ken Collard Matthew, Colin McFarlane Terrence, Miranda Raison Kate

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Sheridan Smith in Mrs Biggs, Marton Csokas as Falcon

Danny Mays, Charmian and Sheridan Smith. Pic: ITV

Mrs Biggs, ITV1
• Sheridan Smith has been cast as Charmian Biggs in ITV1’s new five-parter Mrs Biggs, about the wife of train robber Ronnie. Danny Mays will play the lad with a criminal record who wooed her – where else! – on a train. The couple struggled to stay together when her family did not like Biggs, and the tough times continued when Ronnie got involved in 1963’s Great Train Robbery. He became a fugitive in Australia with Charmian and their children in tow, before he had to flee to Brazil. Sheridan has been recently been winning awards on the London stage for Legally Blonde and Flare Path, while recently on TV she was in Little Crackers and Gavin and Stacey. She said, ‘When I received the call to say that I’d got this job I burst into tears. Charmian is an incredible woman, and I’m so lucky that she’ll be on hand to support me and give me advice during the shoot. I hope that I can do her story justice.’ An award-winning writer, Jeff Pope (Appropriate Adult, See No Evil: the Moors Murders), has been developing Mrs Biggs for four years.

Falcón, Sky Atlantic
More casting news – Marton Csokas, best known as Elven Lord Celeborn in Lord of the Rings, will play the title role of Javier Falcón in Sky Atlantic’s first two-parter based on Robert Wilson’s bestselling detective novels. Two two-parters about the Seville police inspector are in the pipeline, ‘The Blind Man of Seville’ and ‘The Silent and the Damned’. Emilia Fox, Hayley Atwell and Bernard Hill will all appear in the first one. Perhaps Falcón , who is described as ‘an innately sexual and charismatic character’, can step into the gap left by the sadly axed Zen.

Stephen Mangan and Darren Boyd. Pic: BBC

Dirk Gently, BBC4
Dirk Gently, aka actor Stephen Mangan, will soon return to holistically solved some more crimes on BBC4. Darren Boyd will be at his side as partner Richard Macduff, along with Helen Baxendale as Macduff’s girlfriend Susan. In episode one of this new three-part series, Dirk discovers the connection between two unrelated cases – a client who believes the Pentagon are trying to kill him and another whose horoscopes appear to be coming true.

Case Sensitive with Olivia Williams PREVIEW

DC Waterhouse (Darren Boyd) and DS Zailer (Olivia Williams) Pics: (C) ITV Plc/HAT TRICK PRODUCTIONS

Rating ★★★★

ITV1 starts Monday, 2 May, 9pm; concludes Tuesday, 3 May, 9pm

ITV is on a roll at the moment, putting on some sharp crime dramas that rise above the level of, ‘Ooh, look at the lovely village scenery/costumes’ (don’t mention Midsomer Murders/Marple).

So, last week it was The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, while Vera with Brenda Blethyn is with us, and here we have ITV1’s pretty decent contemporary psychological thriller, Case Sensitive. None of these could go 10 rounds with the sensational The Killing, which recently wrapped on BBC4, but they’re far more characterful and engaging than the dull old whodunnits that bring in the foreign sales (don’t mention Lewis/Poirot).  

Mark (Rupert Graves)

Here, Olivia Williams’s DS Charlie Zailer has a problem. She is called in to investigate the apparent suicide of Geraldine Bretherick, found dead in the bath of her luxury home with her five-year-old daughter, Lucy.

One mystery is, did Charlie sleep with her deputy?
Zailer’s problem is that this is the first investigation she’s headed. She’s trying to prove herself to her impossible-to-please boss, and her deputy, Simon Waterhouse (Darren Boyd), is not good at following her instructions. He’s also insubordinate, heavyhanded and rubbish at paperwork. Her boss, Proust (Peter Wight), also likes him.

Oh, and Charlie spent a drunken evening with Simon the night before the deaths – but can’t remember if she slept with him. While Charlie believes Geraldine killed herself and her daughter, particularly after the discovery of a note, Waterhouse is suspicious of her husband, Mark, played by Rupert Graves, who seems to have cornered the market in roles for shifty, unpleasant men.

Tough but insecure – Charlie Zailer

Sophie Hannah‘s suspense novel The Point of Rescue is the source of Case Sensitive, which, as usually happens when novels are boiled down to two-part TV series, loses a lot of the subtlety of the original. So we miss some of Charlie’s background as a Met officer who has come to the provinces.

Chilling twist
But Hannah’s odd-couple detective pairing is portrayed well by the two stars, with each character evolving – Charlie tough and clever but a little insecure, Simon very sharp but whose social outcast nature has earned him the nickname ‘Rainman’.

Sally (Amy Beth Hayes)

The story takes a chilling twist when we meet Sally Thorne (Amy Beth Hayes), a pretty, married hotel receptionist who recognises Mark Bretherick’s name when she catches a news report of the deaths. She confides in her friend, Esther, that she had an affair with Mark and then ignores Esther’s advice not to contact Mark.

When Sally delivers her condolences to Mark, she has a shock and discovers a key to a crime that then escalates.

Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd
Case Sensitive has a great premise, and Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd are very engaging as the colleagues tiptoeing round each other. It suffers a bit from a rushed and convoluted ending, and would have benefited from having more than two hours devoted to it. The Killing was a 20-parter, which meant it really got into the characters.

Who knows – after the cult success of the Danish series, maybe BBC and ITV honchos are at this very moment plotting some bigger, bolder crime dramas for next year?

Cast: Olivia Williams DS Charlie Zailer, Darren Boyd DC Simon Waterhouse, Amy Beth Hayes Sally Thorne, Rupert Graves Mark Bretherick, Tom Goodman-Hill Steve Harbord, Geoffrey Streatfield Jonathan Hey, Peter Wight Proust, Claudia Harrison Cordy O’Hara, Emily Robbins Oonah O’Hara, Melissa Taylor Lucy, Elly Fairman Esther Taylor, Eloise Cartwright Amy, Ralph Ineson DC Sellers, Seeta Indrani Dr Chaudry, Huw Rhys Nick Thorne

Dirk Gently PREVIEW

Digging the Dirk: MacDuff, Gently and Susan (Pics: BBC/ITV Studios)

Rating ★★★½
BBC Four, Thursday, 16 December, 9pm

It’s easy to have low expectations for a new comedy adaptation, particularly from as distinctive and cultish a writer as Douglas Adams, who can be deadened by a flat treatment (2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide movie, anyone?). Nothing fails like a keenly awaited comedy that leaves your face resembling an Easter Island statue throughout.

Happily, the Beeb’s new Dirk Gently will have most viewers’ laughing gear moving in the right directions. It’s succinct at one-hour long, has a fine cast and is a good production all round, with a jaunty Sixties-tinged, crime-movie score.

Helen Baxendale and Stephen Mangan
Stephen Mangan as Dirk recaptures the oddball verve he showed in the excellent Green Wing. He’s the detective who thinks all evidence is interconnected, that ‘every particle in the universe affects every other particle’. Mangan switches easily between shifty and charmingly eccentric.

Helen Baxendale is attractive and fun as Susan, who feels Dirk’s holistic theories are ‘crap’. And Darren Boyd is suitably gormless and questioning as Susan’s boyfriend and Dirk’s sidekick, MacDuff.

Dirk is actually a mini-universe of chaos all on his own. He has a fridge delivered to his office because he is in a ‘cold-war stand-off’ with his cleaner, who has padlocked the one at home. He pays a schoolboy 200 cheap cigarettes to do a bit of computer hacking for him.

Douglas Adams’s far-out humour
Broke, manipulative and driving a 30-year-old yuk-brown Austin Princess, his first client is an old lady, Mrs Jordan (a wonderfully dithering and malevolent Doreen Mantle), who wants him to find her Henry – ‘He’s all I have.’

Henry, of course, is a cat, and the start of Dirk’s attempt to pull together seemingly incoherent pieces of evidence, including the factory that he and MacDuff escape from before it blows up and Susan’s ‘affair’ with missing ex-boyfriend Gordon.

There are some nice sight gags, but most of all Adams’s absurd, imaginative humour comes through nicely as the conventions of crime fiction are playfully tweaked (much credit should go to writer and Bafta-winner Howard Overman). Where Sherlock Holmes deduces, Dirk Gently reduces the universe’s chaos to a unified theory of guilt.

Great fun.

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