Five Daughters — Killer TV No.41

BBC1, 2010
‘I’m not a waste of time, space or oxygen. I deserve the air that I breathe. I stand on corners, alone, lonely, waiting, always for one last time. I love and I am loved. I am alive, except when I choose to play dead…’ – Annette Nicholls
Ian Hart, Sarah Lancashire, Jaime Winstone, Ruth Negga, Joseph Mawle, Vicky McClure, Kierston Wareing
Identikit: Factually based drama telling the stories of five young women who were murdered in Ipswich in 2006.

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‘This is madness,’ says DCS Stewart Gull in this fact-based drama, and those words sum up the dismay – among public and within the police – that surrounded the shocking series of five murders in Ipswich during late 2006. Amid the car chases, brilliant deductions, twisting whodunits and maverick cops, British television occasionally produces a serious drama that punctures the fiction by offering an insight into the real pain behind the crime story headlines. Five Daughters was about the Ipswich serial murders committed by Steve Wright and the impact on the victims’ families. Stephen Butchard wrote a hugely compassionate three-parter that showed that the victims, whatever their backgrounds as sex workers and drug users, were individuals who were loved and profoundly missed by those close to them. Completely free of cop-show cliches, it was based on the personal testimonies of those close to the events in 2006. It tells, for example, of Anneli Alderton’s hopes of

starting her own hairdressing business after coming out of Holloway Prison, or Gemma Adams turning to a drug charity project to break her heroin addiction and get out of the sex trade. And all along is the loving support of mothers, siblings and friends as the women battle to turn their lives around. Cops and killer were not the focus, but the ordinary lives devastated by these awful crimes were. The production was low-key and sensitive, and beautifully acted by a fine cast of young and experienced actors. Though painful to watch at times, the mini-series went some way to help redress the wrong done to the women by showing them as the good, decent people behind the often lurid headlines. 

Watercooler fact: Following Five Daughters, writer Stephen Butchard returned to the fiction side of crime with Sky Atlantic’s Falcon and BBC1’s excellent Good Cop, starring Warren Brown.

Other links…
Best crime dramas of 2010

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Best crime shows of 2010

Here’s a look at the top crime series on UK television in 2010. It was the year case files closed on The Bill, which had really lost its way, and Heartbeat, which had never been very exciting in the first place, and when some savvy new detectives made their debuts. But best of all was the retelling of the heartrending story of the victims of the Ipswich murders…

(Pics: BBC, ITV, BSkyB)

1 Five Daughters, BBC
An unusual choice, maybe, but this was the most affecting and unforgettable crime drama of last year. It was a dramatisation about the five women murdered in Ipswich in 2006. It was not about the killer, Steve Wright, or a heroic detective. These were simply young women who had the misfortune to cross the path of a murderer, ordinary people and their families who did not deserve their fate. Made with the assistance of many of the victims’ families, the police and the local drug rehabilitation centre (Iceni, which is now threatened with closure), the women’s stories were emotional and at times frustrating. In so much crime fiction, the victims – usually in a ditch in the opening scene – are just plot points. Here they were loving, caring people whose addictions made them vulnerable. When portrayed this sensitively, the truth is far more poignant and thought-provoking than fiction. Written by Stephen Butchard, starring Sarah Lancashire and Juliet Aubrey.

2 Sherlock, BBC
Updating Sherlock Holmes could have been the turkey of the year – and there were production missteps, with an un-aired pilot – but the end result was inspired, witty and a terrific series of three mysteries. Benedict Cumberbatch was haughty and charismatic as the amateur sleuth, while Martin Freeman was moving but usually exasperated with his new companion. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson wrote it, Paul McGuigan directed a couple, and David Arnold and Michael Price provided the superb music. The BBC seemed unsure of its potential and scheduled it in the viewing dead zone of July. Will there more stories this year in a better viewing slot following all the acclaim and awards? Elementary.

3 Zen, BBC
Following the success of the beautifully filmed Kenneth Branagh Wallander series, the BBC turned to the same production team to make this radiant three-part series about Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen. The suits, the shades, the cigarettes, the retro music and Alfa Romeos – these three stories certainly had all the gloss. But the mysteries, and Rufus Sewell as Zen, gave the dramas their substance. The intricate plots in which the detective tiptoed through the political and everyday corruption of Italian life were enjoyable and fresh. 

4 Justified, Five USA
For sheer coolness Elmore Leonard’s deputy marshal Raylan Givens was hard to beat. Timothy Olyphant brought something of lawless Deadwood with him as the charming but no-nonsense, shoot-first lawman. Inspired by Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole, the series was a weekly hour of sassy fun – with Givens’ complicated love life featuring sharp performances from Natalie Zea and Joelle Carter – and series two should be with us in the UK in the second quarter of 2011 (why do we always have to wait so long?).

5 Thorne, Sky1
Author Mark Billingham’s popular detective was stylishly adapted for the small screen by actor David Morrissey (as executive producer and star in the title role) and Sky Television. Sleepyhead was the opener and it was a pretty chilling story, about a sadist who induces a state of living paralysis in his victim, but who has killed while perfecting his technique. Aidan Gillen, a terrific Eddie Marsan and a charming Natascha McElhone gave great support. Following its version of The Take the previous year, this suggested that Sky is slowly maturing into a formidable producer of crime dramas.

Law & Order: UK, ITV
The stories are pinched from the US original, but the UK franchise still made their retelling tight and subtle. And the cast have been very good, with Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber as the detectives and Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman as the legal crusaders – all different but blending together to spark some sensitive stories to life. It’s been recommissioned, and rightly so.

7 Garrow’s Law, BBC
Intelligent and compelling glimpse into the dark legal age of the 18th century, when justice was summary, cruel and largely inflicted on those who were poor. It’s all drawn from the real historic Old Bailey proceedings that are available online, with Andrew Buchan starring as the legal pioneer William Garrow, who basically influenced the way courts worked by instigating cross-examinations and other practices. The stories involved the legal murder of slaves, homosexuality and the cruel treatment of sailors at Greenwich Hospital.

8 Spooks, BBC
A series that still delivers the thrills after eight years. The latest series divided fans owing the contorted character somersault of main heartthrob Lucas North, played by Richard Armitage. It was like discovering that James Bond was actually working for SMERSH. This was hard to swallow, and how the series replaces Armitage will be interesting to see. But as an assured mix of suspense and emotional tension, Spooks still had everyone on the edge of their armchairs.

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