McMafia, with James Norton, BBC1

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 28/11/2017 - Programme Name: McMafia - TX: n/a - Episode: McMafia - Generics (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: From L-R: Dimitri (Aleksey Serebryakov), Alex (James Norton), Oksana (Maria Shukshina), Katya (Faye Marsay) and Rebecca (Juliet Rylance).   Please find attached a new image from BBC One’s eight-part global crime thriller, McMafia. The image shows Alex Godman (James Norton), the English-raised son of Russian exiles with a mafia history, and his family.   Faye Marsay (Love Nina, Game Of Thrones) portrays Katya, Alex’s sister, and Juliet Rylance (The Knick, Frances Ha) is Alex’s strong-willed and morally upright British girlfriend, Rebecca. Aleksey Serebryakov (The Method, Leviathan) is Dimitri, Alex’s father and the exiled head of the Russian mafia, and Maria Shukshina (Yolki 3, Terrorist Ivanona) is Oksana, Alex’s socialite mother. Rebecca (JULIET RYLANCE), Katya (FAYE MARSAY), Oksana (MARIA SHUKSHINA), Alex (JAMES NORTON), Dimitri (ALEKSEY SEREBRYAKOV) - (C) BBC WorldWide - Photographer: n/a

Left to right: Dimitri (Aleksey Serebryakov), Alex (James Norton), Oksana (Maria Shukshina), Katya (Faye Marsay) and Rebecca (Juliet Rylance)

Based on Misha Glenny’s non-fiction book, this superb drama is a journey into the complex web of modern international crime

★★★★★

BBC1, New Year’s Day, 1 January, 9pm

CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES out of the way, the Beeb kicks off 2018 with this punchy, sophisticated drama.

It’s based on journalist Misha Glenny’s bestselling non-fiction exploration of modern-day, industrial levels of international crime. It’s been turned into a fictional drama here.

Programme Name: McMafia - TX: n/a - Episode: McMafia Episode One (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Alex Godman (JAMES NORTON), Tanya (YUVAL SCHARF) - (C) Cuba Productions - Photographer: Nick Wall

Dangerous liaisons: Alex Godman (James Norton), Tanya (Yuval Scharf)

McMafia is the tale of Alex Godman – wonderfully played by James Norton – a hedge-fund boss whose Russian-family past sucks him into a dangerous world. Alex’s business is in trouble and he needs new investors.

From the Middle East to London and Moscow

He turns to his dodgy Russian uncle Boris (David Dencik) for help, but soon realises that the Israeli investor Boris suggests, Semiyon Kleiman (David Strathrain) is looking for someone to launder millions in dirty money.

Alex is not interested, but when events take a violent turn, he realises that to save his family he may have to join with Kleiman.

This is a big, richly observed and serious drama. The characters are fascinating and the criminal enterprises depicted are intimidating and frightening.

It’s also superbly made and written. Moving from the Middle East to Moscow, London, Tel Aviv and Versailles, it reveals an opulent world fuelled by cynicism and lethal ruthlessness.

This is far better than Grantchester

Programme Name: McMafia - TX: n/a - Episode: McMafia Episode One (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Alex Godman (JAMES NORTON) - (C) Cuba Productions

Armed struggle: Alex Godman (James Norton)

When Alex tells his mother, ‘What he [Kleiman] wants is illegal,’ she just replies, ‘How illegal?’

When the violence intrudes on Alex’s life, it is sudden, realistic and horrifying. And if you want to see James Norton stretch himself in a series that’s far superior to the rather twee Grantchester, this is it.

The old mob outfits that inspired movies such as The Godfather and GoodFellas look like playground squabbles compared to the vast criminal organisations uncovered in Glenny’s book. McMafia a series that should not be missed.

If the BBC makes a more impressive drama in the months ahead, 2018 will be a very special TV year indeed.

Happy Valley 2 with Sarah Lancashire

Happy Valley series 2 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Catherine (SARAH LANCASHIRE) - (C) Red Productions

Cut above: Catherine (Sarah Lancashire)

Sarah Lancashire is back in a second, gripping series as the fearless small-town cop

★★★★½ BBC1, Tuesday, 9 February, 9pm

SO FAR this winter we’ve had new series of Midsomer Murders and Death in Paradise. Both are hugely popular, marvellous entertainment, lovely settings – and ever so dull.

Returning Vera and Shetland are decent whodunits, lovely settings, etc. Endeavour 3 is perhaps the best of the comeback bunch.

But now we’re getting down to the good stuff. The much talked-about The People v OJ Simpson arrives this month, along with Better Call Saul 2, The Night Manager – and the second series of the superb Happy Valley.

Writer/creator Sally Wainwright did something distinctive with the crime format in series one. The story of small-town police sergeant Cath Cawood – the awesome Sarah Lancashire – was much more than a cop procedural.

Tommy Lee Royce returns

As anyone who has previously been immersed in Last Tango in Halifax or Scott & Bailey knows, Wainwright’s stories offer living, breathing characters whose lives can be ordinary, profound, flawed and funny.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 02/02/2016 - Programme Name: Happy Valley series 2 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: **EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL TUESDAY 2ND FEBRUARY** Catherine (SARAH LANCASHIRE) - (C) Red Productions - Photographer: Ben Blackall

Rock and a hard place: Catherine deals with a sheep

The good news is that series 2 picks up nicely where the first concluded, offering a further mesh of compelling narratives. The BBC now issues a long decree about what should be mentioned in previews such as this, so I’ll stick precisely to what is mentionable.

Catherine is getting back to rebuilding her life, now that the vicious Tommy Lee Royce – James Norton, fresh from War and Peace – is behind bars. However, his hatred of Catherine is resurrected when he learns she has discovered a rotting body…

Sarah Lancashire is again very believable in the emotionally challenging role of a police officer battling to be a good family member and cop in the drug- and poverty-hit Calder Valley of West Yorkshire. As we know from series one, her daughter committed suicide after being raped by Royce, and as she endeavours to bring up her daughter’s son, Ryan, this heartache comes back to haunt her in series 2.  [Read more…]

Happy Valley 2 is on in February

It’s hard to get too charged up over the recent return of Death in Paradise or Midsomer Murders, but the impending arrival of Happy Valley 2 is a different matter. The first series was seriously brilliant, boasting powerhouse performances from Sarah Lancashire and James Norton and receiving a glut of deserved awards, including a Bafta for best series. It will reappear on BBC1 next month and, as the pithy trailer above reveals, evil Tommy (Norton) will still haunt the drama following his capture by Catherine. Writer Sally Wainwright was also on the Bafta podium for crafting this emotional and riveting story. If you missed series 1, catch up with it now and get ready for the next instalment. Unmissable.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 18:00:01 on 08/11/2015 - Programme Name: Happy Valley series 2 - TX: 01/01/2016 - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: **Early Release Image** Catherine (SARAH LANCASHIRE) - (C) Red Productions - Photographer: Ben Blackall

Arresting drama: Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley 2

Crime Thriller Award winners 2014 – best crime fiction and TV shows of the year

Here are the results of tonight’s 2014 Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards.

CrimeTimePreview predicted all the correct winners apart from one – that was Keeley Hawes nabbing Best Actress over Sarah Lancashire. Still, Keeley Hawes put in a terrific performance in Line of Duty 2 and deserves the plaudits.

James Norton also won his first ever award for his chilling portrayal in Happy Valley. Here are the winners in full…

Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards Winners are:

Keeley Hawes for Line of Duty – Dagger for Best Actress

Matthew McConaughey for True Detective – Dagger for Best Actor

James Norton for Happy Valley – Dagger for Best Supporting Actor

Amanda Abbington for Sherlock – Dagger for Best Supporting Actress

Happy Valley – Dagger for Best TV Series

Actor James Norton before Crime Thriller Awards 2014
James Norton being interviewed before the awards

True Detective – Dagger for Best International TV Series

Cold in July – Dagger for Best Film

Peter May – Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year

Wiley Cash – CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger

Ray Celestin – CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger

Robert Harris – CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller of the Year

Denise Mina, Robert Harris and Midsomer Murders were inducted into the Hall of Fame

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Grantchester, ITV, James Norton, Robson Green, Morven Christie PREVIEW

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers and ROBSON GREEN as Geordie Keating in Grantchester
Odd couple – Geordie and Sidney (Robson Green and James Norton). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Monday, 6 October, 9pm

Story: It’s 1953, and just outside the Cambridgeshire village of Grantchester, local vicar Sidney Chambers officiates at the funeral of a solicitor, who committed suicide. However, after the service, glamorous Pamela reveals to Sidney that she was having an affair with the solicitor – and his death wasn’t suicide.

IS THERE ANYTHING less edgy and enticing than another dog-collar detective?

It was only last year since that the Beeb resurrected its bland, nostalgic take on GK Chesterton’s Father Brown. And does anyone have fond memories of Father Dowling or Cadfael?

Reality has intruded on these confections, so that after all the scandals of recent years Catholic priests are now most likely to be portrayed on TV and in novels as sinister figures. It is only in comedies such as Rev and Father Ted that large TV audiences have wanted to embrace religion.

James Norton as the vicar detective

So, now we have ITV’s major new drama with a vicar as its crime-solving hero. And it’s based on a

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers and MORVEN CHRISTIE as Amanda Kendall in Grantchester
In love but not together – Sidney and Amanda

series of books written by James Runcie, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

My own expectations on heading to ITV headquarters in Gray’s Inn Road to see a preview of the series along with the press contingent and the show’s stars – James Norton, Robson Green and Morven Christie – were very low. I just knew it was going to be dull and twee, but with lovely Cambridgeshire scenery.

Here I must offer a contrite confession. I was wrong. Wrong and pleasantly intrigued by the mystery and characters.

Vicar and war-tested soldier

The show’s secret is that Sidney Chambers is not some bland holy man doing God’s work on behalf of the local incompetent police force. There’s more to him.

RACHEL SHELLEY as Pamela Morton in ITV's Grantchester
Woman with a secret – Pamela Morton

The year is 1953 and Sidney has recently served in the Scots Guards during the Second World War, fighting and killing people. Now, as Grantchester’s vicar, he is in a fairly doomed relationship with heiress Amanda Kendall, sometimes wilts under the pressure to be good all the time and is willing to break rules. Most shockingly, he prefers whisky to sherry.

James Norton as Sidney is easily star of the show, playing the character with charm and vulnerability. Odd to think that while filming Grantchester he was simultaneously portraying the sadistic Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley. That’s quite a contrast.

Dark side of the 1950s

Grantchester‘s other strength is that it is no rose-tinted trip down chocolate box lane, like so many period dramas are. The 1950s are not shown as a romanticised lost age, but one that was unforgiving

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers, MORVEN CHRISTIE as Amanda Kendall in Grantchester
Destined to be apart? Amanda and Sidney

to homosexuals – later in the series we meet closeted curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) – the death penalty is even more unforgiving towards those wrongly convicted, and life was pretty restricted for women, so Amanda’s aristocratic father is about to marry her off.

The opening story sees Sidney landed with a problem by one of his flock, the vampish Pamela Morton. She reveals that the solicitor Sidney has just buried was her illicit lover and that he did not commit suicide.

Sidney tries to interest local detective Geordie Keating in the claim. Robson Green plays the cynical cop with a comedy touch, and the two make a fine odd couple. We also meet Sidney’s scowling housekeeper Mrs Maguire, played by Tessa Peake-Jones.

Grantchester should be a big hit

The opener is a good mix of heartbreak, some humour and someone’s passions running amok.

Don’t get me wrong. Grantchester won’t have viewers singing Hallelujah! every Monday at 9pm, but ITV have got an awful lot right in this drama, which looks likely to be a big hit.

Cast: James Norton Sidney Chambers, Robson Green Geordie Keating, Morven Christie Amanda Kendall, Tessa Peake-Jones Mrs Maguire, Al Weaver Leonard Finch, Pheline Roggan Hildegard Staunton, Fiona Button Jennifer Chambers, Ukweli Roach Johnny Johnson, Tom Austen Guy Hopkins, Pip Torrens Sir Edward Kendall, Kacey Ainsworth Cathy Keating, Rachel Shelley Pamela Morton, Michelle Duncan Annabel Morrison

Check out these links…
James Runcie interview
ITV announce Grantchester commission

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