Poirot – Elephants Can Remember, ITV, with David Suchet, Greta Scacchi PREVIEW

ZOE WANAMAKER as Mrs oliver, DAVID SUCHET as Hercule Poirot and GRETA SCACCHI as Mrs Burton-Cox.  Poirot: Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV.
Zoë Wanamaker, David Suchet and Greta Scacchi. Pics ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: Sunday, 9 June, 8pm

Story: While Poirot is pre-occupied with investigating the strange and gruesome murder of an elderly psychiatrist, his old friend, the crime writer Ariadne Oliver, has a case of her own to solve.

MES AMIS, it is almost time for a last au revoir. Having first played Hercule Poirot 1988, David Suchet is stepping into the spats for the last few times as ITV starts showing the final five remaining Agatha Christie adaptations of the Belgian sleuth’s mysteries.

Elephants Can Remember is a suitably lavish and star-studded production, featuring the return of Zoë Wanamaker as Poirot’s old chum Mrs Ariadne Oliver, along with Greta Scacchi – rather shockingly the former screen siren turns up as an old battleaxe – Iain Glen, Vincent Regan and Vanessa Kirby.

Who shot who?

It’s a tale of two investigations. Ariadne is cornered at a crime writers’ convention by a domineering old

VINCENT REGAN as Chief Sup. Beale, ANNABEL MULLION as Lady Ravenscroft and FERDINAND KINGSLEY as Desmond.  Poirot: Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV
Vincent Regan, Annabel Mullion and Ferdinand Kingsley

boot, Mrs Burton-Cox (Greta Scacchi), who insists she look into two 10-year-old unsolved murders. Did General Ravenscroft shoot his wife, Margaret, Ariadne’s old school chum, or did Margaret shoot the general?

Ariadne requests Poirot’s assistance, but the buttoned-up detective is already fully engaged in the case of a psychiatrist who has been murdered in one of his old treatment baths, a rather cruel looking contraption.

It would be interesting to compare this latest Poirot with one of ITV’s productions from the early years. Surely those originals come nowhere near today’s almost fetishistic recreation of the 1920s, with its luxurious settings and beautiful furnishings, clothes and wirelesses, right down to the tea sets. If you like period setttings, this is a feast.

Ariadne and Poirot

Another trademark is the gentle humour in the scenes between Ariadne and Poirot, who’s often perplexed by his friend, and during Ariadne’s questioning of several forgetful old biddies in her quest for a solution to the Ravenscroft case.

Of course Poirot and his stablemate Miss Marple are hardly cutting-edge television. Poirot is a pretty

VINCENT REGAN as Chief Insp Beale and DAVID SUCHET as Hercules Poirot.  Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV
Chief Insp Beale and Hercules Poirot confer

dull character (Ariadne is more fun), and much of the dialogue is dreary exposition – ‘Awful business… they left the house for a walk… didn’t come back… somebody or other found them dead… the revolver was lying by their bodies… bloody hard on the dog…’

But there has long been a big audience for period whodunits, and as Poirot comes to an end, ITV has fairly perfected the recreation of Agatha Christie’s world.

This thirteenth series still has The Big Four, Dead Man’s Folly (still to be filmed), The Labours of Hercules and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case to come. Poirot and the whole cosy drawing-room whodunit game feels dull and bland to many of us, but there is no doubt that a swathe of fans will miss him in their millions. Man alive, the thing airs on over 200 broadcasters worldwide including: USA (WGBH), Australia (ABC), Brazil (Globosat), France (France Televisions), Italy (Mediaset), Japan (NHK) and Russia (TV Center).

So, perhaps a homburg should be raised to ITV for lavishing so much care on the detective for 25 years. They’ve done him justice.

Cast: David Suchet Hercule Poirot, Zoë Wanamaker Mrs Ariadne Oliver, Greta Scacchi Mrs Burton-Cox, Vanessa Kirby Celia, Adrian Lukis General Ravenscroft, Annabel Mullion Lady Ravenscroft, Ferdinand Kingsley Desmond, Iain Glen Dr Willoughby, Jo-Anne Stockham Mrs Willoughby, Vincent Regan Detective Inspector Beale, Alexandra Dowling Marie, Danny Webb Superintendent Garroway, Elsa Mollien Zelie, Claire Cox Dorothea, Caroline Blakiston Julia Carstairs, Hazel Douglas Mrs Matcham, Maxine Evans Mrs Buckle, Ruth Sheen Madame Rosentelle
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Prisoners’ Wives 2, BBC1, with Polly Walker, Pippa Haywood, Karla Crome, Iain Glen PREVIEW

Sally Carman, Polly Walker, Karla Crome and Pippa Haywood, Prisoners' Wives BBC
Frisky business for Kim, Francesca, Aisling and Harriet. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: Thursday, 14 March, 9pm

Story: Francesca, her dad and her two children are nearly burned to death in an arson attack organised by a rival of her imprisoned husband’s. Harriet and her son embark on new spiritual paths, and two new women appear at visiting time – Kim, the respectable wife of a man accused of child abuse, and Aisling, the gutsy teenage daughter of a repeat offender.

The first series didn’t attract much of a fanfare when it went out around this time last year, but that compelling drama about four very different women coping with their men being behind bars attracted a solid audience of 5million and was quickly recommissioned by BBC1.

Season 2 has some new faces and says goodbye to a couple of former characters. Gemma’s story, featuring Emma Rigby, reached a natural conclusion when she walked away from Steve (Jonas Armstrong). And Lou (Natalie Gavin), who lost her boy and ended up in jail herself, was too difficult to integrate in to the new storylines as well.

Sally Carman and Pippa Haywood in Prisoners' Wives BBC1
Kim meets Harriet in the visitor centre

Sally Carman and Karla Crome
In comes Kim (Shameless star Sally Carman) as the wife of an apparently respectable man who ends up inside after being accused of abusing a neighbour’s son. And Karla Crome, the young star seen recently in series such as Hit & Miss, Misfits and Lightfields, plays Aisling, the feisty daughter of roguish repeat offender Brendan (Owen Roe).

The series kicks off explosively when Francesca’s home on the estate, where she lives with her dad (David Bradley), is set alight by arsonists one night. She and her dad and two children escape, but the house is burnt out.

Gangster hubby Paul (Downton‘s Iain Glen) tells her it’s a turf war and she must help him to resolve it. Reluctantly she agrees to hand over a ‘peace offering’ of a cache of weapons to Pearson, Paul’s rival.

Horrific ordeal for Francesca

Iain Glen and Polly Walker, Prisoners' Wives BBC1
Paul and Fran after the arson attack

However, when Pearson insists Franny accompany him during the handover, the transaction turns into a horrific ordeal for her.

It’s a powerful opening episode, and Polly Walker as Francesca and Iain Glen are brilliant as the couple trying to hold things together despite her growing disillusion with life as a prisoner/gangster’s wife. She’s come a long way from the lavish lifestyle we saw her enjoying in series one.

Sweet but daffy Harriet (Pippa Haywood) is involved in a tender, if strained, relationship with the prison chaplain, while her floundering son, Gavin, is desperate to find strength in numbers with the Muslim prisoners.

Nicola Walker in Prisoners' Wives, BBC1
Nicola Walker as DCI Fontaine

Has Kim’s husband been fitted up for a sex crime?
Kim’s storyline is another emotionally strong one, with Mick, her husband (and father of their three boys), accused of a sex crime and locked up pending trial. Has he been set up by the dysfunctional family that live next door?

The cast is further boosted by Nicola Walker as the detective circling Franny and Paul, and Anne Reid turns up as the seedy, fag-smoking accountant that Paul lines up to help his wife.

The stories are based on real-life accounts, and the charity Partners of Prisoners helps to keep the scripts realistic.

Prisoners’ Wives may be a low-key success, but its fine cast and terrific, human interest stories make it one of the most compelling dramas around.

Cast: Sally Carman Kim Haines, Polly Walker Fran Miller, Karla Crome Aisling O’Connor, Pippa Haywood Harriet Allison, Ben Batt Danny, Tony Bell DS Hagen, Jorden Bennie Jaiden, David Bradley Frank, Sally Carman Kim Hall, Enzo Cilenti Mick, Paul David-Gough Chris, Phoebe Dynevor Lauren, Laura Frances-Morgan DS Sankey, Adam Gillen Gavin, Iain Glen Paul, Munir Khairdin Imam, Callum Lambert Jack, Joshua Lambert Charlie, Emma Matthews Vicky, Harry McEntire Matt, Jack Mitchell Reece, Osi Okerafor Ben Ballo, Chris Overton Blake Fenner, Gary Overton Stan, Anne Reid Margaret, Owen Roe Brendan, Nicola Walker DCI Jo Fontaine, Stuart Wolfenden Liam

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Quincy, ME and the Jack Taylor Collection DVD REVIEW

Quincy, ME series 3 on DVD

Quincy, ME series 3
DVD: ★★★½ 

Jack Klugman, who passed away over last Christmas, was the popular star of 12 Angry Men, TV’s The Odd Couple and latterly Quincy, ME, the third series of which is released today on DVD and should help keep fond memories of the actor alive.

The series ran from 1976 to 1983, a good stretch in the ultra-competitive world of US network TV, with Klugman winning a new fanbase as the inquisitive LA pathologist who was constantly butting heads with the cops. The format was routine, with a death occurring each week, appearing to be down to natural causes. Then Quincy, usually assisted by his lab helper Sam (Robert Ito, pictured together, below), would notice a discrepancy, suspect foul play and turn detective himself.

Jack Klugman and Robert Ito in Quincy, ME

Quincy, ME preceded the contemporary obsession for dramas based on forensic pathology and is obviously far less explicit than today’s hit dramas such as CSI and Silent Witness. It was a family-friendly mystery that grew out of NBC’s Mystery Movie slot, which included 1970s hits such as Columbo, McCloud and McMillan.

And it was undoubtedly Klugman’s turn as the principled, irascible medical expert that won it a place in the viewing habits of audiences in the US and UK.

Quincy, ME series 3 (Acorn Media UK), RRP £25.99, release date 4 March 2013, running time 953 minutes on six discs, certificate 12

Iain Glen as Jack Taylor

The Jack Taylor Collection
DVD: ★★★★
Extras: ★★★ 

Channel 5 is currently riding high with these three excellent films about former Irish cop Jack Taylor, starring Iain Glen.

Based on the superb novels of Ken Bruen, these three films – The Guards, The Pikemen and The Magdalen Martyrs – do a fine job of capturing the Galway ‘finder’ with all his rough edges. Taylor rarely wins a fight, but he will never back down when taking on the cases the cops won’t touch.

Iain Glen, here a long from Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey, wanted to take on the role despite his heavy schedule, and he is very watchable as the down-at-heel, damaged former Guard. We first meet him chasing down the speeding saloon car of a government minister in the pilot, The Guards.

When the minister, whom Jack dislikes because he won’t support Ireland’s nurses, gets out of his car to give the detective a dressing down, Jack punches his lights out. Hence, the end of his career.

‘He’s self-destructive, he drinks, takes drugs, but he has a moral centre,’ director Stuart Orme says in the extra features. ‘He wants to do the right thing.’

The three 90-minute films see him risking everything to take on vigilantes and stick his nose into frightening conspiracies. They are full of atmosphere and strong characters, while delving into the dark side of Irish society on occasion. And they leave quite a few UK police procedurals in the shade.

The Jack Taylor Collection (Acorn Media UK), RRP £25.99, release date 11 March 2013, running time 281 minutes on three discs, certificate 15

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Jack Taylor: The Guards starring Iain Glen C5 PREVIEW

Jack Taylor looks for a missing daughter in Galway. Pics: Channel 5

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 5: starts Thursday, 21 February, 9pm

Story: Beautiful Anne Henderson comes into Jack´s local pub and asks him to find her missing daughter. Before long, former cop Jack is submerged in the grimy secret lives of Galway´s outwardly respectable middle class citizens. 

News that Irish author Ken Bruen’s terrific series of books about former Galway cop Jack Taylor were getting the telly treatment may have tempted a few to reach for a beer and chaser. Or several.

Would the drama capture the character’s battered personality, or would he be stripped of everything that makes him compelling – booze, bad attitude and beatings.

Well, Channel 5 is stepping outside of its comfort zone of interminable US buy-ins – The Mentalist, Castle, NCIS, etc – for this series of three Irish acquisitions. And, while not perfect, they take a decent stab at capturing the books’ specialness.

Jack (Iain Glen) and Anne (Tara Breathnach)

Jack Taylor – aka Iain Glen
The opener is based on the first novel, The Guards, introducing us to the bloodyminded, dishevelled, boozy, unshaven Taylor, recently turfed out of the Irish police because ‘I’m risk-taking and don’t kiss arse’.

He gets by as a ‘finder’, and is approached by the Anne Henderson at his local, who asks him to find her daughter.

Iain Glen certainly looks the part of the rundown cop, and while the Scottish actor’s Irish accent is elusive, his trademark low, smooth voice – familiar in everything from Game of Thrones, Prisoners Wives to Downton Abbey – works for the character. And he is versatile and charismatic enough as a performer to win us over as the man battling demons within and without.

With friends like these… Sutton

Taylor’s dangerous ‘friend’ Sutton
Anyway, the bodies of three young women are washed up in the river. The word is suicide, but Jack suspects something more sinister, and Anne Henderson fears her daughter may soon be among them.

Jack teams up with an old paratrooper mate, though, like many boozers, he does not always show good judgement of character. Sutton turns out to be a nasty piece of work who jeopardises Jack’s inquiries with his brutality.

The investigation leads to a factory that illegally employs plenty of young women. It turns into a very dirty business indeed, featuring well-connected people with criminal secrets.

Vivid and tragic anti-hero
TV likes to focus on the plots of crime novels, often discarding interesting characters for the mechanics of whodunit. Ken Bruen’s novels are plot-lite, with digressions and observations from Taylor that make them so vivid and tragic.

This trio of TV movies are each two hours long, however, and spend time to breathe life into our anti-hero. Taylor’s narration captures much of his caustic view of contemporary Ireland. Elsewhere, the drama passes on some of the books’ poetry, such as when he tells Anne of a Guard collegue he once loved – ‘She made me feel I was more than I was.’

Jack has a network of un-influential street contacts

Also included are Taylor’s awful mother – ‘You’ll come to nothing, like your father’ – his ‘father-confessor’ and favourite barman, Sean, his nemesis in the force, Clancy, and his bond with the street dwellers of Galway.

Watching these films, any fans of Ken Bruen’s award-winning books who do reach for the bottle will probably do so with a smile rather than a need to find a level of oblivion worthy of Jack Taylor himself.  This is a good series, which makes you want to go back to the novels.

Cast: Iain Glen Jack Taylor, Ralph Brown Sutton, Tara Breathnach Anne Henderson, Barry Cassin Sean, Paraic Breathnach Father Malachy, David Heap Lanpert

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Prisoners’ Wives – Jonas Armstrong, Emma Rigby PREVIEW

Polly Walker as sassy Francesca. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1, starts Tuesday, 31 January, 9pm

Story: ‘I’m your dream ticket,’ Steve tells his happy, young pregnant wife, Gemma – just before armed police smash down the front door and take him away on suspicion of murder. Though convinced of his innocence, Gemma is still pitched into a frightening new life as a prisoner’s wife…

Where this week’s other new crime series Inside Men (see below) is full of tension, thievery and shotguns, Prisoners’ Wives has less action and is mainly about relationships under strain. It is an absorbing drama that veers away from plot twists and shocks in favour of believable characters whose lives are freefalling into turmoil.

Steve (Jonas Armstrong) and Gemma (Emma Rigby)

Written and created by Julie Gearey, the six-parter’s opening episode introduces us to Gemma, who is young, happily married to Steve and pregnant. Her idyll is shattered along with her front door when heavily tooled up coppers smash into their home and arrest Steve for murder.

Gemma’s shame and fear
‘I swear, I don’t know anything,’ Steve tells her on her first visit to see him in prison. But why is Steve, who runs his own business, being held if there is no evidence, and why is there a two-hour gap in his alibi?

Gemma is alone and scared, having to get used a new group of friends, the prisoners’ wives. Convinced that Steve has been wrongfully arrested, Gemma rejects the friendship of bold and brassy Francesca, whose husband Paul is inside for drug running.

Is Steve guilty or innocent?

Julie Gearey, whose writing credits include Coronation Street, Casualty and The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, skilfully depicts Gemma’s loneliness and fear, as the mum-to-be tries to hide her shame over Steve’s arrest from her workmates as well as her beloved foster mum. She has the shock of biometric scans and body searches at the prison, and the cruel bullying of the detective in charge of Steve’s case.

Polly Walker as Francesca
Emma Rigby is well cast as the pretty and fragile Gemma, looking about 14 years old in what must be a tough role as woman who’s in tears in every other scene. Jonas Armstrong is good as the husband we’re not sure about, but it is Polly Walker as queen bee Francesca who gives the show a lot of heart.

Sassy and living in luxury, Francesca won’t be dissed by anyone, certainly not the pinstriped banker dad of her son’s girlfriend, and Gemma is eventually drawn to her.

Among the other main characters are Lou, who is certainly not living in luxury as she tries to get by selling drugs and hiding her partner’s prisoner status from their boy, Mason. And only glimpsed in the first episode is Harriet, who comes into the story more later on.

Heartache ahead

Prisoners’ wives Lou, Gemma, Francesca and Harriet

As the opener concludes, Gemma learns more about Steve’s predicament and it’s clear there will be big challenges and soul-searching ahead for the women. Refreshingly for a crime drama, it doesn’t finish with a daft twist but a tender moment that has the same effect – leaving a strong desire to see what happens next.

Cast: Jonas Armstrong Steve; Emma Rigby  Gemma; Polly Walker Francesca; Pippa Haywood Harriet; Iain Glen Paul, Natalie Gavin Lou

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