Utopia series 2, Ch4, with Alexandra Roach, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Neil Maskell

Pietre in Channel 4's Utopia series 2
Mad about the boy – young Pietre in Utopia 2. Pics: Ch4

Rating: ★★★★

Ch4: July, date and time to be confirmed

Story: How did the Janus project to save humanity begin during 1979’s Winter of Discontent? And, in the present day, what has happened to Jessica, Arby, Ian, Grant and Becky…

NO SOONER has Fargo been put into cold storage than Ch4 has another drama for viewers needing something a little, shall we say, outre

Utopia‘s first series last year was certainly on the excessive side, with teeth-gnashing violence and a stunningly off-kilter conspiracy tale.

It’s great to see it return with its surreal style, quirky soundtrack (by Cristobal Tapia de Veer) and nightmarish mood.

Utopia series 2 Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde
Where is Jessica? Locked up…

Utopia returns with a double-bill

Series two launches as a double-bill over consecutive nights, with the opener being an hour-long

flashback to the origins of the whole mad Janus conspiracy. We see how scientist Philip Carvel (Tom Burke) dreams up a plan with security agent Milner (Game of Throne‘s Rose Leslie) to save the world from overcrowding by secretly sterilising 95 percent of the population.

In the time-honoured tradition of know-it-all scientists from Dr Frankenstein to Dr Strangelove, the best laid plans – ‘We’re creating Utopia’ – go awry as Carvel and Milner’s relationship fractures.

In addition, Carvel fears for his daughter Jessica – yes Jessica Hyde, protagonist of series one – whom Milner is threatening, while also consumed with guilt over his experimentation on his toddler son, Pietre.

Rose Leslie as Milner in Utopia 2
Rose Leslie as deadly agent Milner

Neil Maskell, Fiona O’Shaughnessy and Adeel Akhtar

With the little monster child, writer Dennis Kelly’s sadistic humour flourishes again. Carvel’s deranged bid to use the boy as a guinea pig for a treatment to inhibit violence turns the lad into a mini-Hannibal Lecter instead.

The opener is a wonderful evocation of that period of 1970s industrial mayhem, political paranoia and conspiracy incontinence. Thrown into the mix are Margaret Thatcher, Airey Neave (played by Tim McInnerny), the IRA, Aldo Moro and much more.

Episode two reunites us with the old gang who became embroiled in the conspiracy last time round – Jessica (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), who’s been held captive by latter-day Milner (Geraldine James), Arby (Neil Maskell), Ian (Nathan Stewart Jarrett), Grant (Oliver Woollford) and Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar). The story rumbles on with news of the Network and its plans for ‘V’ Day…

Without ever trying to make a coherent case about the political shenanigans of the past 35 years, Utopia remains an engrossing and distinctive mashup of paranoia, dark suspicions and black humour. When it comes to conspiracy yarns, the drama is – to borrow the title of the 1979 Madness album – one step beyond.

Check out these links…
Utopia series 1 review
The music of Cristobal Tapia de Veer
Utopia Channel 4

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13 Steps Down on ITV1 starring Luke Treadaway PREVIEW

Luke Treadaway, Anna Calder-Marshall, Gemma Jones, Geraldine James
Luke Treadaway, Anna Calder-Marshall, Gemma Jones, Geraldine James. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★ 

ITV1: Monday, 13 August, 9pm

Story: Mix is a trainer-wearing, fitness-machine repairman who has sex with bored rich women and fantasises about the serial killer John Reginald Christie. He is also stalking a catwalk model, Nerissa Nash. His obsessive fantasy world eventually opens up his potential for real-life murder.

Great to see Ruth Rendell’s work back on prime time. The author behind the Wexford stories has a far more interesting and unsettling line in psychological whydunits, and 13 Steps Down is one of these.

It is a macabre journey in the company of Mix Cellini, young repairman and bit of a charmer, who at the same time is a loathsome creep. We first meet him visiting the site of what was once Rillington Place, the scene of the horrific murders of Mix’s hero, John Reginald Christie.

Elarica Gallacher as Nerissa Nash in 13 Steps Down
Stalker’s victim Nerissa

Mix Cellini is a stalker obsessed with serial killers
When Mix (Luke Treadaway) is not servicing fitness machines, he is servicing one or two bored rich women who own them. He rents a flat from Gwendolen Chawcer – a rather ‘irrational old bag’, as Geraldine James, who plays her, explains – and Mix’s place is packed with novels about serial killers.

His other obsession is a supermodel called Nerissa Nash (Elarica Gallacher), whom he stalks obsessively. His life spins into violence when a young woman he is sleeping with, Danila, criticises Nerissa while at Mix’s flat.

It’s a strange and compelling tale, with Mix’s neurosis mirroring the bitterness and delusions of his landlady, Gwen, who is sad and repellent at the same time. Add in Mix’s feeling that Christie is watching over him and you have an unsettling drama.

Luke Treadaway is compelling as Mix
Luke Treadaway, who we’ve seen in Attack the Block and Clash of the Titans, convincingly portrays Mix’s unnerving descent from reality, reaching a crisis in the second and final episode, in which he finally breaks the bubble of his fantasy world and approaches Nerissa. You feel a tinge of sadness for someone so out on their own.

Gemma Jones and Anna Calder-Marshall are wonderful as Gwen’s long-suffering friends, Olive and Queenie, who gradually become suspicious of her lodger.

Luke Treadaway and Victoria Bewick
Mix and Danila

Rendell is expert at pulling back the net curtains and revealing the madness and delusions of everyday life. Though the story feels a little shoehorned into just two episodes (it would have been interesting to know more of Mix’s background), this is still an engrossing thriller with a terrific gothic twist at the end.

Cast: Luke Treadaway Mix Cellini, Geraldine James Gwendolen, Elarica Gallacher Nerissa Nash, Gemma Jones Olive, Anna Calder-Marshall Queenie, Victoria Bewick Danila, Sam O’Mahony Darel, Maryam D’Abo Madame Odette, Laura Pyper Kayleigh, Ben Shafik Abba, Brian Bovell Tom

South Bank Show clip with Ruth Rendell talking about her novel

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