Appropriate Adult — KIller TV No.43

DC Savage (Sylvestra La Touzel) with Leach (Emily Watson) and West (Dominic West). Pics: ITV

2011, ITV1

‘You’re helping me through the most terrible time. You’re my only friend.’ – Fred West
‘I’m not your friend, Fred.’ – Janet Leach
‘You are. We’re going on journey together, Janet.’ – Fred West
Dominic West, Emily Watson, Monica Dolan, Robert Glensiter
Identikit: The true story of how ordinary housewife and mother Janet Leach became the Appropriate Adult, or civilian counsellor, for one of Britain’s most notorious mass killers, Fred West, during his questioning by police.

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The crime genre – books and films – frequently and luridly dabbles in depictions of serial killers, but few if any capture some of the mundane and evil truth of such criminals as powerfully as this two-part ITV drama. Extraordinary, sensitive and chilling, it offers a glimpse into the depraved world of Gloucestershire murderer Fred West and his wife Rosemary. It was criticised as insensitive in some quarters, but it is nevertheless a serious and carefully produced mini-series revealing some of the reality behind a crime few people could comprehend. It is based on the true story of Janet Leach, a social worker who volunteered to act as an Appropriate Adult, a liaison to help and support juveniles or vulnerable adults in police custody. Her very first appointment is to assist a 52-year-old man. No sooner has she entered the police interview to sit alongside him than the man is describing how he strangled his own daughter, Heather. ‘Hadn’t wanted to hurt her,’ he explains. ’I was scared, so I was gonna put her in the Wendy house, but then I thought I’d put her in the dustbin…’ He matter-of-factly describes using an ice saw to cut off her legs and head. He is, of course, Fred West, and Janet Leach finds herself acting as a supporting shoulder for one of the most disgusting mass killers in British history. Emily Watson plays Janet with wide-eyed dismay, and watching her the audience cannot help wondering what a trauma she went through. Dominic West, a long way from The Wire here, is extraordinary as the West Country bumpkin who lies, wheedles and charms as easily as he breathes, and who is by turns maudlin and monstrous. ‘Time for a cuppa, I’d say, Hazel,’ he chirps to the detective questioning him. When a third thigh bone turns up in his garden, Fred says innocently to the same detective, DC Hazel Savage, ‘Don’t know where that came from.’ Janet is a woman who must go home to a partner and her children at night and somehow keep a lid on the nightmare she is exposed to at the police station, while also finding it difficult to stop listening to the unfolding horror story she hears as Fred’s confidante. This is an appalling burden for her, but at one point she talks him into telling the whole truth and he admits to a further eight, ‘all right, nine, killings’. It was a controversial production, as any dramatisation touching on victims of recent crimes will be (some police officers were particularly critical), but the portrayal was not sensational or leering at the Wests’ crimes. No horror or crimes were depicted, just a disturbing portrayal of horrendously dysfunctional people. Dominic West, Emily Watson and Monica Dolan, who played Rose West, all won Baftas for their performances.
Watercooler fact: This was the third of ITV’s major dramas exploring real crimes, following This Is Personal (2000, about the Yorkshire Ripper) and See No Evil (2006, the Moors Murders).

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Midsomer Murders ITV1 – the case of the unlikely success

Neil Dudgeon as DCI John Barnaby and Jason Hughes as DS Ben Jones
Jason Hughes as DS Jones and Neil Dudgeon as DCI Barnaby. Pics: ITV

Death and the Divas is the first of a new series of Midsomer Murders, starting at 8pm on Wednesday, 2 January, on ITV1. Writer and blogger Pat Nurse investigates the success of a procedural that some may see as twee and silly, but which is still going strong after 15 years and is one of the most-sold British shows around the world…

The curtain comes up on the quintessentially English detective mystery series Midsomer Murders when a new three-episode series of the popular drama is launched in the New Year.

Caroline Munro as the Evil Priestess, a figure of glamorous evil in a Stella Harris movie, with Georgina Beedle as a young Stella Harris
Georgina Beedle as a young Stella Harris in Death and the Divas

It has the usual mix of theatrical intrigue and suspense, and a cast of characters who live in the green and pleasant county of Midsomer – a somewhat idealised version of a country that has changed dramatically in the 15 years since the first pilot was shown on TV and possibly the reason why it continues to enjoy such huge popularity. It shows the Empire culture attitude of a country struggling in modern times with its identity and gives viewers a taste of Olde Englande nostalgia.

Ethnically diverse it isn’t, but it is representative of British eccentricity. You can expect victims to be bumped off somewhere between afternoon tea and a cricket match on the village green. More victims will follow the Sunday Church service and the local fayre, and maybe the murderer will be discovered after watching a round of May Day dancing by Morris Dancers after foraging for the murder weapon in poisonous mushroom fields, or staving someone’s head in at the top of the bell tower.

Midsomer deaths based on Hammer Horrors

Harriet Walter as Diana Davenport, a Hollywood star and Stella's younger sister
Harriet Walter as Diana Davenport

The first episode of the new series of Midsomer Murders harks back to the days of the Hammer horror films of the 1960s, with murder following in the footsteps of roles previously played by fading star Stella Harris (Sinead Cusack).

During a screening of one of Stella’s old gothic cult films in a local Midsomer festival, journalist Eve Lomax (Sasha Waddell) is killed. She was writing a book on Stella and her more famous sister, Hollywood actress Diana Devenport (Harriet Walter), and may have uncovered a secret that someone obviously didn’t want to get out.

As this is Midsomer, the murder capital of TV land, the slayings don’t stop there. That’s just the beginning of many more to come in a convoluted plot based on secrets and lies and sibling rivalry, but DCI Barnaby (the second), played by Neil Dudgeon, will work it out. He always does and maybe his cute little sidekick Sykes will help him as much as his sergeant DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes).

John Carson as Older Gentleman, a smooth, aristocratic predator and Caroline Munro as the Evil Priestess
John Carson as the Older Gentleman

Sinead Cusack
The TV appearance is a rare one for actress Sinead Cusack, who has been mostly involved in theatre work for the last six years.

She said, ‘I recently did Wrath of the Titans, which was a movie with all the paraphernalia that goes with it in terms of budgets, crew and sets. But it wasn’t nearly as appealing as Midsomer Murders.’

Charm and nostalgia may be Midsomer’s magic formula for success – or maybe it’s just damn good writing, damn good acting, original cluedo-type whodunnit plots, and a rare view of England in summer enjoying good weather for a change.

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Crime Stories ITV1 – rubbish or riveting?

Ben Hull as DS Ben Shaw and Jane Antrobus as DI Jane Preston. Pic: ITV

Crime Stories, ITV1’s new daytime improvised drama (weekdays, 2pm), is certainly dividing opinions. According to comments on the CrimeTimePreview piece below, these range from ‘dross’ and the ‘poorest ever police style programme’ to Jane Antrobus’s ‘acting has been first class’. Strong views are everywhere on this show, even in today’s Guardian, which has an interesting article about it. This asks whether the series, for all its faults – ‘ropey’, ‘risible’, ‘boring’ – should also be applauded for blazing a trail for a new kind of quickly produced, inexpensive drama that could yet find its way to producing riveting stories. And Crime Stories is doing reasonably well in the ratings – 900,000 viewers.

So, come on. Who’s watching it? And what do you think?

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The Poison Tree ITV1 with MyAnna Buring, Matthew Goode PREVIEW

Nowhere to hide? MyAnna Buring as Karen in The Poison Tree. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV1: starts Monday, 10 December, 9pm 

Story: Karen Clarke has spent 12 years waiting for her partner, Rex, to be released from prison. Now he is free, she is looking forward to settling down to normal family life – but suddenly she feels she is being stalked…

Based on a novel by Erin Kelly (which was highly praised by Stephen King), The Poison Tree is a two-part family thriller revolving around buried secrets gradually being forced to the surface.

Karen and Biba

Karen and her teenage daughter, Alice, greet Rex on his release from prison after he’s done 12 years inside. She’s looking forward to starting a new family life with her partner, determined that they should keep from Alice the secret of their past and the events leading to Rex’s imprisonment.

Karen also covers for Rex’s absence by telling the neighbours near their small seaside bungalow that he’s been away working.

Partying, drugs and an unhappy childhood
Through a series of flashbacks we get clues to the momentous, secret events that forged Karen and Rex’s relationship. Karen actually met Rex’s damaged sister Biba first, when she and Rex were living a hedonistic life in their own grand house.

At the time, 1999, Karen was a mousey languages student, while Biba was a flamboyant art student. However, behind the partying and drugs lay an unhappy childhood for the siblings, with their rich businessman dad, Max, being unfaithful to his wife, who was suicidal over his antics.

As Karen comes on the scene, events come to a murderous climax, though as episode one finishes we are still not sure how Rex ends up in jail. What is clear, is that his release is not the new start Karen hopes for.

Released from prison – Rex

Creepy seaside setting
There are the silent phone calls, anonymous texts and the feeling that someone is watching their remote bungalow. Karen is unwilling to tell Rex about this, and it becomes clear she has deeper secret that she is withholding from Rex.

The Poison Tree is adapted for ITV by Emilia di Girolamo, who’s written some gripping episodes of Law & Order: UK, and it’s a solid enough thriller. The beachside setting is isolated and made menacing by director Marek Losey.

The two episodes are just about enough time to build up the characters and keep us interested in finding out whether Rex really was the murderer and what went down in 1999…

Cast: MyAnna Buring Karen Clarke, Matthew Goode Rex, Hebe Johnson Alice, Ophelia Lovibond Biba, with Patrick Baladi, Ralph Brown, Lex Shrapnel, Neil McKinven

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Crime Stories starring Jane Antrobus and Ben Hull PREVIEW

Jane Antrobus and Ben Hull in the documentary-style Crime Stories. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★

ITV1: from Monday, 12 November, 2pm

Story: In the opening story, a daughter calls the police because she suspects the carer of her elderly father is stealing from him. As DI Jane Preston and DS Ben Shaw investigate, the case turns out to be trickier than it first appears.

A crime wave is coming to daytime TV as 20 police incidents are being dramatised on weekdays over the next four weeks. Filmed in documentary style with characters speaking directly to camera on occasion to help viewers along, these investigations are based on UK police procedure while being fictional.

They star Ben Hull (Hollyoaks, Family Affairs) as detective sergeant Ben Shaw and Jane Antrobus, a recently retired real-life detective chief superintendent with Great Manchester Police, as detective inspector Jane Preston. The setting is fictional East Central Police Station.

Crime drama without car chases and shootouts
Real policeman will tell you their work can be routine, if not dull, and Crime Stories seems to aim to be authentic, so the cases are low-key, sometimes a little mundane. The Sweeney it ain’t.


Episodes 1-5
Ben Hull and Charlotte Brimble in episode three
  • Monday 12: A woman reports that her elderly father has been robbed at his care home 
  • Tuesday 13: When a shop-worker is injured in an armed robbery, her colleague seems distraught
  • Wednesday 14: When Helen’s engagement ring is stolen, she’s sure she knows who took it
  • Thursday 15: School admin-assistant Justine’s house is vandalised. The police are sympathetic – at first
  • Friday 16: An ex-soldier’s home is burgled. The police know who’s done it – but the burglar’s son confesses 

The opening story is about elderly Philip (Corrie‘s former fave Peter Baldwin), whose daughter thinks his care assistant, Anya (Magdalena Kurek, EastEnders), is pilfering from him. There’s a lot to-ing and fro-ing as the detective duo quiz the daughter, dad, Anya and the care-home boss, Marion (another Corrie face, Wendi Peters), about the missing £60.

Is it a drama or Watchdog?
A lot of people will knock the show, I suspect, because it’s not exactly a big-budget production, some of the acting is a bit flat and at times it’s hard to work out whether you’re watching a drama or Watchdog.

But the opening story was well done and interesting in the end. The cops suspect the daughter of being a gold digger, perhaps having put the old boy in the home against his will. But the facts slowly twist our perception about what’s happened. People are not always what they seem.

Jane Antrobus – real detective turned actor
In the end, the crime is much bigger than it at first appears, and the emotional impact from that is also unforeseen. It’s the kind of knotty small drama that might hit a chord with a daytime audience, and is a little reminiscent of The Bill‘s early half-hour episodes, before it became a lurid soap.

We’ve seen action star Steven Seagall working as a real reserve deputy sheriff in the reality show Steven Seagal: Lawman, but how does Jane Antrobus do in reverse? Well, she never has to plumb the emotional depths but does a good job of playing herself at work. The small army of soap actors who make up the guest stars in Crime Stories had better watch out.

Cast: Ben Hull DS Ben Shaw, Jane Antobus DI Jane Preston, with guest stars including Tina O’Brien, Zoe Lister, Ricky Groves, Natalie Cassidy, Gabrielle Glaister, Darren Day, Jeremy Edwards, Wendi Peters, Adele Silva, Tricia Penrose, Roxanne Pallett, Vicky Binns, Bobby Davro, Gemma Bissix, Dean Gaffney, Paul Danan, Michelle Gayle, Alex McSweeney, Charlie Clements, Jamelia Davis and Peter Baldwin

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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.

Watching the new detectives this autumn

Two popular Brit detectives make the leap from the novel to small screen soon – Mark Billingham’s spooky cop Tom Thorne and Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks.

Sky1 has filmed David Morrissey in two Thorne mysteries, the original story in the series, Sleepyhead, and the second, Scaredy Cat.

Sleepyhead, the chilling story of a serial killer who induces in his victim a conscious state of paralysis, also has Natascha McElhone, Aidan Gillen and Eddie Marsan among the cast (Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy will appear in Scaredy Cat). For Sky1, Sleepyhead is one of its marquee shows this autumn and details of its broadcast time will be out soon.

Meanwhile, ITV1 has lined up one of its favourite actors, Stephen Tompkinson, to breathe life into Banks. Whether Tompkinson, star of such family faves as Wild at Heart, has the oomph to cut it as a cop pushed to his limits by yet another serial monster in Aftermath should be interesting.

UK telly honchos are always seeking the holy grail of the next Morse, or even a Wexford. But the listings mags are filled with forgotten entries for such flops as Rebus, ITV miserably failing to capture the cussedness and self-destructiveness of Ian Rankin’s brilliant character.

We’ll soon know whether Peter Robinson, Mark Billingham and their many readers will enjoy a better result. In the meantime, for a taste of Thorne’s first outing, check the grisly trailer on Mark Billingham’s site.

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