State of Play — Killer TV No 18

B0007ZD6YK.02._SS400_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1118152570_BBC1, 2003

‘One of my officers was murdered. Don’t piss me about.’ DCI William Bell

David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Polly Walker, Bill Nighy, Philip Glenister, James McAvoy, Marc Warren

Identikit: When Sonia, a political aide, is killed on the London Tube, a newspaper starts an investigation that will lead to a conspiracy of political corruption and oil industry influence in the government.


logosWhat begins as two apparently unconnected deaths – one that appears drug-related, one of the young researcher of an MP, who falls under a Tube train – spirals into evidence of a conspiracy. As reporters played by Kelly Macdonald and John Simm investigate, they discover that not only was Stephen Collins, MP, the chairman of the energy Select Committee, having an affair with Sonia, his researcher, but that she had received a call from a murdered youth, who was gunned down in the street. Kelvin Stagg had stolen a briefcase and was attempting to sell it back to its owner when he and a passing courier were shot by a hit man. The murder of a detective watching over the recuperating courier rounds off the opening episode of one of the most pacy, exciting thrillers ever to be made for UK television. It was also ahead of its time in depicting the blagging used by our reporter heroes to harvest personal information from hospitals and phone records (years before Hackgate exposed the dirty, non-investigative side of it). David Morrissey is terrific as the unfaithful politician husband in turmoil, whose lover may have had more baggage than he ever imagined. Bill Nighy counterbalances Morrissey’s emotional performance with a razor-sharp turn as the cynical newspaper editor – ‘Either he [Collins] is faking it or he’s nobbing her.’ And he has many of the best lines – ‘Don’t kiss your own arse till you get us a name.’ And a pre-Life on Mars Philip Glenister plays a seriously intimidating detective chief inspector, showing just how powerful he can be in a straight role. His scenes with Nighy’s slippery editor are riveting. Oil industry obfuscation and corruption, human drama, wit, chases and intrigue – thrillingly directed by David Yates, who made several of the Harry Potter films – all go into making this a high point in UK crime drama. Written by one of the UK’s best writers, Paul Abbott (Shameless, Hit & Miss), the six-part thriller had superb dialogue, was politically caustic, and had a superlative British cast, one of the best ever assembled, many of whom have gone on to major successes in the US – Morrissey and Simm being particularly fine.

Sequel: the 2009 movie with Russell Crowe was decent but couldn’t resist Hollywood’s obsession with convoluted twist endings.

Classic episode: Each episode of this six-parter is engrossing, but the final episode ties the drama together brilliantly, with one final, oh-bloody-hell twitst.

Watercooler fact: The BBC wanted a sequel series, but apparently Paul Abbott, after working on a script, couldn’t make the story work. Which may be just as well – sequels rarely match an inspired original.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/stateofplay/

The Driver, BBC1, with David Morrissey, Ian Hart, Colm Meaney PREVIEW

Vince McKee (DAVID MORRISSEY) in The Driver
Driven to desperation – cabbie Vince McKee (David Morrissey). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: starts Tuesday, 23 September, 9pm

Story: Taxi driver Vince McKee finds his life taking an unexpected turn when he accepts an offer to drive for a criminal gang. It’s been engineered by his old friend Colin, who has resurfaced after a six-year stretch in prison.

‘HOW WOULD YOU like to earn a bit extra?’ These are the words that slowly tempt cabbie Vince McKee into a faustian pack with a gangster known as the Horse in this stylish and gripping slice of Manc noir.

David Morrissey is very good at playing men on the edge – remember him in State of Play? – and he is the man caught in crisis here. His life consists of crap money, customers puking in his cab and a burnt-out marriage to Rosalind.

Since their son cut his ties with them, they’ve drifted apart, and Vince is finding it hard to get on with his teenage daughter. He is depressed and stressed.

Colm Meaney as the Horse in The Driver
Colm Meaney is a man called Horse

Poker with the Horse

His world takes a swerve for the reckless when he meets his old chum Colin, just released from prison for armed robbery. Colin thinks he is good at being a criminal, despite his recent long stretch inside.

He and Vince discover that the woman in Colin’s life has been made pregnant while he was inside by his twin brother. Colin is, in other words, a sad case – and a bit toxic. When he invites Vince to play poker at his mate The Horse’s place, you know the cabbie should see a red light here and steer clear.

When the Horse, played by Colm Meaney in his first UK television role since the police drama Strangers in 1982, offers him ‘a bit extra’, Vince is adamant he doesn’t want to get sucked into the perils of Colin’s circle.

Part thriller, part family drama

However, when he has a run-in with two drunken young women who assault, rob him and flee his

David Morrissey as Vince McKee, Claudie Blakely as Ros McKee in The Driver
Vince and Ros

taxi down a dark back street, Vince accepts the Horse’s offer.

The Driver is a sharp story, part thriller and part family drama, directed with noirish intensity by Jamie Payne. It is written by Danny Brocklehurst (Accused, The Street) and Jim Poyser (Shameless), two writers who can build characters that have depth and moral complexity.

No one is perfect here, and when Vince goes for the offer to be a driver for the gang, we can see how seductive this is for him. The beauty of the story is that Vince is initially a changed man with his moonlighting role.

Brutal twist and a rubber-ripping car chase

The Horse pays well, Vince has cash to buy driving lessons for his daughter and remembers his

Woodsy (CHRIS COGHILL), Darren (ANDREW TIERNAN) in The Driver
Not a pretty sight – Woodsy and Darren

wedding anniversary (which Ros has forgotten). By the end of the opener, however, the story takes a brutal twist, and Vince knows he is in deep.

Manchester is filmed beautifully as a night-time backdrop to much of the action, and Jamie Payne builds some of the scenes very effectively. The meeting in which Vince accepts the work offer at the Horse’s swanky house, watched by his goons, is brilliantly atmospheric, combining visual warnings, off-kilter Hawaiian-style music on the gangster’s sound system and thinly veiled threats.

It’s only a three-parter, but The Driver tears off with a rubber-ripping car chase and packs plenty of absorbing drama. Fasten your seatbelts…

Cast: David Morrissey Vince McKee, Claudie Blakely Ros McKee, Ian Hart Colin and Craig Vine, Sacha Parkinson Katie, Colm Meaney The Horse, Darren Morfitt Mickey, Andrew Tiernan Darren, Christopher Coghill Woodsy, Lee Ross Kev Mitchell, Shaun Dingwall Detective Ryder, Lewis Rainer Tim McKee, Harish Patel Amjad, Tom Gibbons Ryan

Check out these links…
David Morrissey on bbc.co.uk
The Driver on bbc.co.uk

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The Field of Blood: The Dead Hour, BBC1, with David Morrissey, Jayd Johnson, Katherine Kelly

Paddy Meehan (JAYD JOHNSON), Murray Devlin (DAVID MORRISSEY), Maloney (KATHERINE KELLY) in Field of Blood BBC1
Heard the news? Katherine Kelly is Jayd Johnson and David Morrissey’s new boss. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC1: Thursday, 8 August, 9pm

Story: Glasgow, 1984 – Paddy Meehan now has her dream job as a news reporter working alongside George McVie. But while times are changing in the newspaper industry with the arrival of a new editor-in-chief, Paddy investigates what seems to be a domestic that turns into murder and a conspiracy…

IT’S TWO YEARS since we first met Paddy Meehan, the aspiring young journalist in 1980s Glasgow. Or, in the words of her chauvinist editor, ‘You’re just the fat tart who makes the coffee.’

Paddy had ideas above her station, however, chased her story and proved that her 10-year-old cousin, who’d been arrested for the murder of a child, was innocent.

Now she’s back, no longer a ‘copyboy’ but a fully fledged reporter scouring the city for crime stories alongside veteran George McVie. It’s a two-part drama that has a lot going for it, from a very watchable cast to a juicy mystery that starts off looking like a domestic involving an Amnesty lawyer, but which quickly spirals into a major conspiracy.

Katherine Kelly is the scary new boss

Maloney (KATHERINE KELLY) in Field of Blood BBC1
Can Maloney be trusted?

Jayd Johnson makes a sympathetic young reporter again, and David Morrissey returns as the foghorn editor, though this time he is cowed by his own new boss – editor-in-chief Maloney, a woman, no less, played with Cruella de Vil relish by former Corrie stalwart Katherine Kelly.

Because times are a-changing in 1984. Not only is the miners’ strike dominating the headlines, but the newspapers themselves are modernising – new management, new computers, new redundancies.

So when Maloney arrives and tells editor Murray Devlin, ‘If you don’t like it, piss off,’ we know there are tricky times ahead.

Based on Denise Mina’s novel

It’s a period of turmoil that clearly galvanises author Denise Mina, on whose novel The Dead Hour this mini-series is based. It pulls together the office politics and the national battles for a thought-provoking and eventful story.

Paddy and George attend what appears to be domestic assault involving human rights lawyer Vhairi Burnett. But detectives at the scene tell the news-hounds that the victim does not want to take further action. However, the next day Vhairi turns up dead, and Paddy is on the path of the story of a lifetime, but one that powerful forces want to suppress.

The Beeb buried the first series in a post-10pm slot, but clearly value it enough this time round to put it on at a more viewer-friendly 9pm.

Paddy was a more convincing character first time round

Paddy Meehan (JAYD JOHNSON) in Field of Blood BBC1
Paddy’s in for a shock in the new series

Which is ironic in that the first series had the edge over this one. Paddy’s character was developed better in the original (if you haven’t seen that, you might feel she is pointlessly at loggerheads with everyone from her family, to her colleagues and the police here), and I also felt the period was portrayed more evocatively first time round.

Still, Katherine Kelly is a fine pantomime villain and the intrigue revives memories of a period of social and political upheaval, building to a shock end.

Cast: Jayd Johnson Paddy Meehan, Ford Kiernan George McVie, Katherine Kelly Maloney, David Morrissey Murray Devlin

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The Field of Blood

Jayd Johnson as Paddy. Pic: BBC

Rating ★★★★½

BBC1, Bank Holiday Monday, 10.15pm (it’s already been shown in Scotland)

Story: Early 1980s Glasgow. A young aspiring reporter becomes personally enmeshed in a horrific child murder when she tries to expose who the real killer is after her 10-year-old cousin is arrested for the crime…

It’s a shame the Beeb has tucked away this well-made, captivating drama after 10pm. Perhaps because it is free of forensics gore and genius serial killers, it was not considered lurid enough for 9pm.

Instead, The Field of Blood, which is based on a popular Denise Mina novel, relies on beautifully drawn characters in a tense, believable story that evokes the recent past so well.

‘You’re just the fat tart who makes the coffee’
Paddy Meehan, played by the young Jayd Johnson, is a ‘copyboy’ and wannabe journalist on a Glasgow newspaper in the early Eighties. When the harrowing murder of a two-year-old boy makes the headlines, crime obsessive Paddy hopes to make a name for herself when she starts to question official theories about the killer.

Jayd Johnson, whose main claim to fame are some appearances in the Scottish soap River City, puts in a fine performance in the central role here. She slipped out of an acting course in New York to do the part. Paddy is unprepossessing and ‘fat’ (though hardly so by contemporary standards), with an unambitious fiancé and a Catholic family that would be pleased if she dropped the career dreams and just settled down.

But Paddy is tenacious and bright, which is just as well because she needs a lot of guts to carve a niche in the female-lite newsrooms of the time. ‘You’re just the fat tart who makes the coffee,’ sneers David Morrissey’s editor, Murray Devlin. Which may be slightly exaggerated, but certainly the crude jokes and attitudes are not.

Ostracised by her mother and family
The murder case becomes personal for Paddy when she realises it is her quiet 10-year-old cousin that has been arrested for the crime. Unable to betray her family by writing an inside story for her paper, she confides in one of the few established women there, glamorous reporter Heather.

Who, of course, double-crosses Paddy and shames her family by writing a report. Brutally ostracised by her mother and family, Paddy sets out to prove her cousin’s innocence by uncovering some disturbing coincidences about the child’s murder.

Monkey Boots and smoke-filled offices
The Field of Blood is an intriguing two-part mystery and drama, which wears the period detail well but lightly, from Paddy’s Monkey Boots to the smoke-filled offices and 1980s music (Elvis Costello, Talking Heads). Like Mad Men, it offers a sobering glimpse of the recent past, when newspapers were still important and grotesque attitudes to women hardly raised an eyebrow.

However, even the hard-bitten, nicotine-stained newsmen are in for a shock following events at the end of episode one.

Jayd Johnson Paddy Meehan, David Morrissey Murray Devlin, Peter Capaldi Dr Pete, Jonas Armstrong Terry Hewitt, Bronagh Gallagher Trisha Meehan, Matt Costello Con Meehan, Robert Dickson Calum Ogilvey, Alana Hood Heather Allen, Ford Kiernan George McVie

Thorne: Sleepyhead PREVIEW

David Morrissey as Tom Thorne (all pics: Sky)

Sundays from 10 October, 9pm Sky1

Rating ★★★½

Viewers with a soft spot for David Morrissey may be distressed by Sleepyhead, the opening story from this smart, vivid Tom Thorne series.

The actor is battered, bruised, drugged, seen throwing-up and falling off a building. That’s all before he gets one more pasting. Even his wife, novelist Esther Freud, said he looked rough when she saw the show.

But what also grabs the attention in this screen version of novelist Mark Billingham’s popular detective series is its visual pizzazz and excellent cast of strong characters.

London’s multi-ethnic streets and its evolving wastelands round Stratford make a rich backdrop, while a smattering of vintage country music (the choice of Morrissey and Billingham) give the show a freshly different texture to that of staples such as Inspector George Gently or Poirot.

Eddie Marsan on top form


Morrissey is battered but dominant, while being assured enough as an actor (and executive producer here) to share plenty of screen time and plot with a terrific cast. Eddie Marsan stands out as Thorne’s bitter colleague, Kevin Tughan.

Natascha McElhone (Californication, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Dr Anne Coburn adds humour and a frisson in her scenes with Morrissey, while Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Identity) is spiky as pathologist Phil Hendricks, who shares a dangerous secret with Thorne.

Stephen Hopkins, the Emmy-winning director who made episodes of 24 as well as The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, injects pace and a wonderful eye for the new London.

Sky may not exactly churn out new drama, but coming after last year’s impressive version of Martina Cole’s The Take, Thorne shows ambition and grit where the Beeb and ITV sometimes seem plodding with period cops and dull procedurals.

Locked-in syndrome
Billingham’s many fans will be familiar with Thorne’s first-ever case and the author’s ingenious idea of having his serial killer inducing a state of ‘locked-in syndrome’ in his victims, in which they can think and see but not move or feel.

The psycho does this by applying pressure to points on the neck and head. He fails several times, killing his victims, before successfully inflicting a state of living paralysis on Alison (Sara Lloyd Gregory). Thorne finally realises their man wants to paralyse rather than kill his victims.

The drama echoes the book in feeding us Alison’s frantic, bitter and humorous internal thoughts, which gives the story emotional punch (Billingham doesn’t like victims to be used as mere plot points).

She holds the key to finding the killer, but as Thorne investigates he is taunted by messages that could only be emanating from a serial killer he once caught and who is now dead. 

Scaredy Cat
Here the Sky version veers away from the novel and becomes a little convoluted. But there’s no doubting that the interplay between the main characters is psychologically tense and compelling. 

Sleepyhead is to be followed immediately by another three-part story, Scaredy Cat (starring Sandra Oh, above), and the author along with Morrissey, are hoping these will clock up enough viewers for more to be commissioned.

Morrissey clearly has the multi-tasking capabilities of a Swiss Army knife, having launched his own production company (Tubedale Films), recently appeared in Red Riding, Five Days, Poirot and U Be Dead, while helping to get Thorne off the ground.

With such a punishing schedule, it’s a wonder he looks so good in Sleepyhead.

First glimpse of Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat

Sky1’s all-star dramatisation of DI Thorne, featuring the first two stories from Mark Billingham’s hit series of novels, are now scheduled for October. I hope to be reviewing them in the first week of next month, but in the meantime here is a glimpse of scenes from the opening three-part Thorne films.

Thorne: Sleepyhead
Stars: David Morrissey (State of Play, Red Riding, Doctor Who) as Tom Thorne; Natascha McElhone (Californication, The Truman Show); Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes, Little Dorrit); and Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Identity)

Thorne investigates a sadistic serial killer, whose fourth victim, Alison, survives – unluckily for her. The killer has induced ‘locked-in syndrome’ in her, a state in which she is conscious but unable to move or communicate. Thorne soon realises this was the goal in all the killer’s attacks, not to kill but to paralyse. During the investigation, he also revisits a terrifying personal secret from 15 previously.
Director Benjamin Ross (Poppy Shakespeare, RKO 281) says, ‘I wanted to shoot an epic version of London. We shot a morning chase across the roofs of Shoreditch and a murder sequence at the Thames Barrier. It’s a very gritty landscape of London that you don’t even see in movies.’

Thorne: Scaredy Cat
Stars: David Morrissey; Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy, Sideways)

Two women are murdered near St Pancras Station. Thorne discovers he’s chasing not one, but two serial killers.

U Be Dead, ITV1 PREVIEW

Morrissey and
Fitzgerald
(Pics: ©ITV)

Rating: ★★★★

ITV1, Sunday 5 Sept, 9pm

David Morrissey and Tara Fitzgerald go through the emotional mincer in ITV1’s U Be Dead.

It’s the disturbing true tale of the psychiatrist and his fiancée viciously stalked by Maria Marchese, who was jailed for nine years in 2007 for what the Met called ‘one of the worst cases of stalking we have ever had to investigate’.

So often the manly hero, Morrissey (soon to be DI Thorne in Sky1’s new take on Mark Billingham’s detective) faced a delicate acting challenge as Dr Jan Falkowski, who goes from glamorous professional to stalker’s victim, to love rat and back to sympathetic victim.

‘Prepare for your funeral, not your wedding’ 
Fitzgerald, who is usually able to coast it in Waking the Dead, here reduces a courtroom – and surely a few front rooms when this goes out – to stunned, sympathetic silence as the fiancée forced to contemplate suicide by the vast and terrifying campaign of intimidation waged via mobile phone, email and written notes.

We first see Jan and Debbie Pemberton as a happy-go-lucky, dashing couple (he’s a power boat racer in his leisure hours). They are planning their wedding when the texts from hell arrive, and a two-year vendetta begins.

‘Prepare for your funeral, not your wedding’ is one to Debbie, and ‘U be dead’ another. Jan wants to be strong about it all and the police are informed. But the psychological horror of being targeted with death threats by someone who’s invisible starts to shred everyone’s nerves.

Sham wedding to flush out the stalker
It’s impossible to watch without thinking, Well, what would I do? Throwing away the mobile phones, the stalker’s main weapon of persecution, is no use because there are the emails, the written notes under the door, the twenty-odd calls to parents in one day, the stalker’s cancellation of the wedding reception, the bomb threat…

Their tormentor goes round with a bagful of change using dozens of public call boxes that can’t be traced. Friends, relatives and colleagues are obsessively badgered. This is stalking on a near industrial scale.

The couple and their families are under huge stress. Jan eventually starts a secret affair with a younger woman, Bethan Ancell (Lucy Griffiths, seen recently in Collision and Robin Hood).

Despite this, he goes through with a sham wedding to Debbie to flush out the stalker. In a bitingly tense scene, the police finally nab the woman, 45-year-old Argentinian-born Maria Marchese (played by Monica Dolan).

Accused of rape
But as the writer, Gwyneth Hughes, says, the twisting events are barely credible and could never be sold as fiction. So we are stunned but believe it when the Crown Prosecution Service decides there is not enough evidence to prosecute Marchese. She then accuses Jan of raping her.

Jan is a cold character, who has demanded Debbie should have been stronger. But it is to Morrissey’s acting credit that we come round to empathising with him again as the victim of a living torment.

Hughes, whose writing credits include Miss Austen Regrets and Five Days, had input from Jan, Debbie and Bethan and has created a powerhouse drama that will haunt you for days. Over two hours she builds a chilling portrait of two people stripped of their identities by years of lies and threats.

One question not resolved is what made Maria Marchese, who will be eligible for parole in 2012, the malevolent stalker she was.

Great scene: Tara Fitzgerald breaking down and reducing the courtroom to stunned silence

David Morrissey’s heavy caseload

Morrissey as
Dr Falkowski ©ITV)

Speaking of David Morrissey (Watching the new detectives this autumn – below), Sky1’s Tom Thorne dramas are not his only new outing in coming weeks.

He also gives a stand-out performance in U Be Dead on ITV1 in September, the harrowing true story of the London psychiatrist and his fiancée who were viciously stalked by Maria Marchese.

Morrissey is very good as the not-always-sympathetic Dr Jan Falkowski, while Tara Fitzgerald is moving as the fiancée, Debbie Pemberton, whom he cheats on during the dark days of their persecution.

I can’t give too much away about the drama – it’s is embargoed for a few weeks yet – but I would say the jaw-dropping horror this couple endured, along with the fine acting and writing (by Gwyneth Hughes), make U Be Dead compulsive and unforgettable. Marchese was sentenced to nine years in 2007 and the Met called it ‘one of the worst cases of stalking we have had to investigate’.

In terms of crime output, this has been a stunning year for Morrissey. We’ve already seen him as a detective in the BBC’s Five Days (also penned by Gwyneth Hughes), he squeezed in a role in Agatha Christie: Poirot for ITV (Murder on the Orient Express), and then there are the Thorne films, Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat, looming on Sky1.

Somehow, he also put a shift in on Blitz, a movie version of Ken Bruen’s novel, starring Jason Statham, Aidan Gillen and Paddy Considine, which apparently is coming out sometime soon.

No one could accuse this guy of not being much cop.

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