State of Play — Killer TV No 18

B0007ZD6YK.02._SS400_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1118152570_BBC1, 2003

‘One of my officers was murdered. Don’t piss me about.’ DCI William Bell

David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Polly Walker, Bill Nighy, Philip Glenister, James McAvoy, Marc Warren

Identikit: When Sonia, a political aide, is killed on the London Tube, a newspaper starts an investigation that will lead to a conspiracy of political corruption and oil industry influence in the government.

logosWhat begins as two apparently unconnected deaths – one that appears drug-related, one of the young researcher of an MP, who falls under a Tube train – spirals into evidence of a conspiracy. As reporters played by Kelly Macdonald and John Simm investigate, they discover that not only was Stephen Collins, MP, the chairman of the energy Select Committee, having an affair with Sonia, his researcher, but that she had received a call from a murdered youth, who was gunned down in the street. Kelvin Stagg had stolen a briefcase and was attempting to sell it back to its owner when he and a passing courier were shot by a hit man. The murder of a detective watching over the recuperating courier rounds off the opening episode of one of the most pacy, exciting thrillers ever to be made for UK television. It was also ahead of its time in depicting the blagging used by our reporter heroes to harvest personal information from hospitals and phone records (years before Hackgate exposed the dirty, non-investigative side of it). David Morrissey is terrific as the unfaithful politician husband in turmoil, whose lover may have had more baggage than he ever imagined. Bill Nighy counterbalances Morrissey’s emotional performance with a razor-sharp turn as the cynical newspaper editor – ‘Either he [Collins] is faking it or he’s nobbing her.’ And he has many of the best lines – ‘Don’t kiss your own arse till you get us a name.’ And a pre-Life on Mars Philip Glenister plays a seriously intimidating detective chief inspector, showing just how powerful he can be in a straight role. His scenes with Nighy’s slippery editor are riveting. Oil industry obfuscation and corruption, human drama, wit, chases and intrigue – thrillingly directed by David Yates, who made several of the Harry Potter films – all go into making this a high point in UK crime drama. Written by one of the UK’s best writers, Paul Abbott (Shameless, Hit & Miss), the six-part thriller had superb dialogue, was politically caustic, and had a superlative British cast, one of the best ever assembled, many of whom have gone on to major successes in the US – Morrissey and Simm being particularly fine.

Sequel: the 2009 movie with Russell Crowe was decent but couldn’t resist Hollywood’s obsession with convoluted twist endings.

Classic episode: Each episode of this six-parter is engrossing, but the final episode ties the drama together brilliantly, with one final, oh-bloody-hell twitst.

Watercooler fact: The BBC wanted a sequel series, but apparently Paul Abbott, after working on a script, couldn’t make the story work. Which may be just as well – sequels rarely match an inspired original.

Code of a Killer, ITV, David Threlfall


Test-tube detectives – John Simm and David Threlfall


A drama based on real events that is truly an awe-inspiring story…

★★★★ ITV, starts Monday, 6 April 9pm

ITV HAS  a fine track record at taking true crime cases and – sometimes controversially – turning them into thought-provoking, compelling dramas.

Past successes include This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, Appropriate Adult and, most recently, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies.

This latest, Code of a Killer, is the story of Alec Jeffreys’ discovery of DNA fingerprinting in the 1980s alongside its first use by Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker in nabbing a double murderer. You could say it cleverly splices the DNA of two dramatic genres – the great inventor biopic and the police procedural.

Either story has the potential to be great viewing. Here we get both.

David Threlfall and John Simm

It begins in 1983 with the murder in a small village outside Leicester of 15-year-old Linda Mann, who was raped and strangled. David Threlfall – a long way from Frank Gallagher in Shameless here – manages to be charismatic as the ordinary, hangdog detective leading the exhaustive and fruitless hunt for the killer.

Baker and his team at the second crime scene

Baker and his team at the second crime scene

Meanwhile, John Simm leaves behind his familiar dour, hard-bitten routine to play the absent-minded scientist Jeffreys. His wife is infuriated by his neglect of parental duties, but Simm’s performance brilliantly captures the lone, eccentric scientist obsessed with uncovering a decipherable method for the DNA code.

Jeffreys was the sort of boy who brought home dead cats found on his paper round to dissect on the kitchen table. As the eccentric beardy grown-up scientist, John Simm is pretty likeable, for once.

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Life on Mars — Killer TV No.36

BBC, 2006-2007
‘A word in your shell-like… Don’t ever waltz into my kingdom playing king of the jungle.’
– DCI Gene Hunt
‘Who the hell are you?’ – DI Sam Tyler
‘Gene Hunt, your DCI, and it’s 1973, almost dinner time, and I’m having hoops.’ – DCI Gene Hunt
John Simm, Philip Glenister, Liz White, Dean Andrews
Identikit: A detective has an accident and is plunged 33 years back in time to an era when policing was more ‘robust’.
HIGH-CONCEPT crime drama – time-travel being the concept – that won a following through its freshness and cheekyness, principally in the character of Gene Hunt, the 1970s cop with unenlightened views on everything from women to coppering. Played with gusto by Philip Glenister, this throwback to 70s shows such as The Sweeney was the show’s star, making a straight man out of John Simm’s Sam Tyler, the contemporary cop pitched back in time. Sam, circa 2006, is distracted when his girlfriend, also a detective with Greater Manchester Police, is abducted by a killer. While David Bowie’s Life on Mars plays on his iPod, he is hit by a car – and wakes up in flares and butterfly collars on his shirt, with Life on Mars again playing, this time on an 8-track tape in his new car, a 1970s Rover P6. ‘I need my mobile,’ he tells the PC who finds him. ‘Mobile what?’ Plod responds. And so Sam finds himself part of Gene Hunt’s team, investigating a killer who may be related to the killer who has abducted his girlfriend in 2006. The first series is great fun, with Sam struggling with voices coming from his telly, apparently from a doctor treating him while he is in a coma in 2006, dealing with Hunt’s instinctual approach to crime solving – ‘Anything you say will be taken down, ripped up and shoved down your scrawny little throat until you’ve choked to death’ – and trying to find his way back to the present day. The culture clash between Sam, used to do everything according to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and bullying, bigoted, boozing Gene was beautifully written and played. The series – created by Tony Jordan, Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh – juggled its crime plots and Sam’s story well, but is best-remembered for the chance it offered to chortle at the good old/bad old days when women were ‘birds’, offices were thick with fag smoke and fingerprints took two weeks to process. Forgotten how we used to booze heavily at work? Gene reminded us – ‘I’ve got to get down the pub and give the papers a statement, and if I don’t get a move on, they’ll all be half cut.’ Two series of Life on Mars were followed by three further series of 80s-set Ashes to Ashes, with the focus on Keeley Hawes’s Alex Drake, but the retro-novelty and humour deflated during this run. Still, inspired mergings of the crime and sci-fi genres are rare, particularly ones with characters as memorable as Gene Hunt – ‘What I call a dream involves Diana Doors and a bottle of chip oil.’ It won an International Emmy for best drama in 2006 and 2008.
Classic episode: The finale of the first series was emotional and clever, with Sam coming across his parents in 1973 and trying to prevent his father, Vic, from running away, which he thinks will enable him to emerge from his coma. Gene reveals that Vic is a ruthless gangster, and Sam’s flashbacks through the series are revealed to be memories of his younger self that he only now remembers.

Watercooler fact: Life on Mars was remade in America, lasting one season; in Spain, where it was called The Girl from Yesterday; and Russia, which gave it the title The Dark Side of the Moon.

More of the Killer 50

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Prey, ITV, with John Simm, Craig Parkinson, Adrian Edmondson PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: begins during week of 26 April-2 May

Story: Detective Sergeant Marcus Farrow, a well-liked copper who is wrongly accused and arrested for an inhumane crime. When he escapes custody he becomes an outlaw trying to clear his name.

PREY comes from the pounding action end of the crime-drama spectrum. Its starts with a bang and hardly lets the pace drop thereafter.

John Simm is the go-to guy if you want grim-faced cop on the edge. Here, he’s over the edge – on the run, in fact, frantic after being accused of murdering his wife and youngest son.

He’s Detective Sergeant Marcus Farrow, a well-liked copper who crosses paths with a nasty scrote called Lomax while trying to work out who killed ‘Turkish godfather’ Omer Hassan. Lomax makes a veiled threat about Farrow’s family – ‘We all have families’ – and the next thing is Farrow’s estranged wife and son are brutally stabbed to death.

John Simm is The Fugitive

The detective in charge of the case, Chief Inspector Susan Reinhardt, quickly concludes Farrow must
be the killer, based on the fact he and his ex, Abi, had had a nasty row. From there the plot spins off spectacularly as our man becomes a fugitive and finds out just how he has been betrayed.

Subtle it is not. But any story of a desperate cop on the run, with no allies, must have the cat-and-mouse intrigue to hold the audience if it is done well. And Bafta-winning director Nick Murphy keeps the thrills spilling out at a great pace.

It is also shot in gritty Manchester locations, all rough pubs with hard-looking punters. It’s a refreshing shift of gear from the many psychological whodunits we see.

Craig Parkinson from Line of Duty

John Simm, as we know from hits such as Life on Mars and Mad Dogs, is very watchable as the man in a tight spot, though he is a bit too emotionally uptight for the devastating scenes following the murders

of his family, which don’t quite convince.

Craig Parkinson turns up straight from his stint as dodgy Dot Cottan in Line of Duty, playing Marcus’s detective colleague Sean Devlin.

The series has been written and created by TV newcomer Chris Lunt, who only became a professional writer in 2010 following a redundancy. He acknowledges Prey‘s debt to the classic US series The Fugitive, but has still come up with a punchy story about an ordinary guy in an extraordinary mess.

Cast: John Simm Marcus Farrow, Rosie Cavaliero Susan Reinhardt, Craig Parkinson Sean Devlin, Adrian Edmondson DCI Warner

Try these links:
John Simm Society blog
Script Angel interview with Chris Lunt

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John Simm in Prey, first glimpse of ITV’s new thriller

Prey is ITV’s forthcoming three-part thriller starring John Simm as a detective who is arrested for murder and sets out to clear his name. This trailer certainly sets the scene well…

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Mad Dogs 3, Sky1, with John Simm, Philip Glenister, Marc Warren, Max Beesley

Mad Dogs III - Episode 1 .Selected Stills - Exterior Airfield South Africa; Rick (MARK WARREN) doesn't think he can do it alone! Sky1
Don’t look now – Rick (Marc Warren) faces a threatening future alone. Pics: BSkyB

Rating: ★★★

Sky1: starts Tuesday, 4 June, 9pm

Story: After the law finally caught up with them at the end of the last series, Woody, Quinn, Baxter and Rick are now being interrogated in a dilapidated prison in the Moroccan desert.

THOSE MAD DOGS who managed to turn a fun reunion in Spain into the holiday from hell involving stolen drug money and murder are now hitting their third series.
The law of diminishing returns dictates that this should be poorer than those preceding it. But while it is not as engaging or funny as the first series, it does pack surprises and have the guts to take the story on a new trajectory. 

Jaime Winstone as Mercedes

Woody (Max Beesley), Quinn (Philip Glenister), Baxter (John Simm) and Rick (Marc Warren) find

Mad Dogs III - EPISODE 1..Woody (Max Beesley). SKY ONE
Caged – Woody (Max Beesley)

themselves in a rundown interrogation centre in the Moroccan desert as episode one starts. The treatment they get is rough, they look rough and there’s a tough young female prisoner there giving them a hard time.

This is Jaime Winstone playing Mercedes, and she seems to be following in dad Ray’s footsteps by being the hardest character on display. Mercedes is a soldier who strayed but shows her combat readiness by throwing Quinn to the ground.

She’s also a lot more clued-up than the clueless foursome. When Quinn whinges about their rights being infringed by their incarceration, Mercedes tells them, ‘This place doesn’t exist.’

Mad Dogs is again intriguing, surreal and pretty silly 

Sky1 Mad Dogs III - Episode 1 Exterior Airfield South Africa - The boys step out of the aircraft when its landed. Woody (MAX BEESLEY), Quinn (PHILIP GLENISTER), Baxter (JIOHN SIMM) and Rick (MARK WARREN)
Flying by the seat of their pants – Baxter, Woody, Rick and Quinn

They are, of course, in this pickle after being duped by Mackenzie (David Warner) at the end of series two. Instead of arriving in Barcelona with the three-million euros, the ship container they were travelling in turned up in Morocco, where they were greeted by armed men who took the money.

Writer Cris Cole instils the new series with intrigue and surreal touches again, including a scary little African figure haunting proceedings this time. It’s a disorientating touch, similar to ‘Tiny’ Blair’s appearance in series one.

That was a triumph for Sky1 in 2011, getting nominated for a Bafta and winning terrific ratings for a non-terrestrial channel (episode one got 1.6 million viewers). The plot was slow in places but the theme of old mates meeting up in disappointed middle age – and played with relish by the four actors – gave the drama emotional impact while the lads got sucked into Alvo’s criminal enterprise.

The lads are now on the run from the CIA

This new series has lost much of that as the foursome’s characters are subsumed in a hectic story. Where ‘Tiny’ Blair was bizarre, funny and sinister, here the scary masked figure is part of a more

Mad Dogs III - EPISODE 1..Rick (Marc Warren) interrogated SKY ONE
Wired – Rick under interrogation

confusing set-up.

Anton Lesser eventually turns up as Alex, who appears to be from the British government and tells the guys they are on a CIA hit list (don’t ask). From there the drama spins off into another country and another cliffhanger.

Mad Dogs is now a story charging along so fast it’s hard to get a grip on who’s who and what’s happening. The final moments of this opener do, however, set up some interesting possibilities for the remaining three episodes, so perhaps the dogs will stop chasing their tails and the series can recapture its earlier charm and character focus.

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Mad Dogs series 2 PREVIEW

All at sea – Max Beesley, John Simm, Marc Warren and Philip Glenister. Pics: BSKYB

Rating: ★★★★

Sky1, from Thursday, 19 January, 9pm

Story: Woody, Baxter and Rick are about to drive off and leave their mate Quinn in the Majorca villa to continue his life there. Then they spot the partner in crime of Spanish cop Maria arriving, and Baxter applies the brakes to their car…

It’s lovely to see the ‘four herberts’ back on their holiday from hell. Woody, Baxter, Rick and Quinn should  know better than to indulge in extreme sports at their age, particularly those involving murder and the theft of £3million in stolen drug money, but happily they’re taking to it again like leaping lemmings.

Mad Dogs 2 picks up exactly where the first stopped – with Woody, Rick and Baxter in their car about to flee from the villa of Alvo, the dodgy old ‘mate’ they’d been visiting who came to a bloody end. Maria, the bent Spanish cop, is still floating in the pool and Quinn is there with her, having shot her.

When the three in the car see Maria’s corrupt partner Dominic turning up, they stop, unsure whether to leave Quinn to it or help him. Needless to say, they get dragged back into the madness.

Always looking over their shoulder – Baxter and Rick

Starting over with stolen drug money
Once again it’s a pleasure to watch John Simm, Marc Warren, Philip Glenister and Max Beesley at each other’s throats. The series was originally made because they wanted a project they could all work together on, and it’s easy to see why.

Mad Dogs has fun playing these actors against type. John Simm often portrays miserable, angry types, but here he is meeker and vulnerable. His character even comforts Quinn when he is in shock after shooting the policewoman. Marc Warren is clueless and uncool, and Max Beesley gets the chance to act.

There’s an element of the Coen brothers here as the four ordinary Joes are way out of their depth, rushing off to Ibiza with the £3million in drug cash they were going to leave behind, but which Woody has slipped into the boot of their getaway car.

Out-smarting the gangsters?
And like the best Coen brothers films, events unfold with dimwitted, greedy simplicity as the guys, who include a teacher and would-be antiques dealer among their number, try to play in the gangster league. The trouble is, they’re about as like mad dogs as Scrappy Doo.

‘Maybe something good will come out of this,’ says John Simm’s Woody – and you know he’s totally kidding himself.

But then Quinn chimes in – ‘How many men of our age get to start all over again?’

Bit of a wheeze – the boys meet their mystery contact

An underworld contact called Wheezy
One aspect of series one that is missed is Alvo (Ben Chaplin), the former chum who flaunted his ill-gotten luxury in front of the sad sacks and rubbed in their broken marriages and dull careers. Instead, the guys lacerate each other in his absence.

So there’s a nice scene on the ferry to Ibiza when Rick blows his top after one of the guys refers to him as an accountant. ‘How many times do I have to tell you,’ he yells in a crowded bar. ‘I’m a financial adviser.’

There’s a lot of humour in this opener, before events take an explosive turn. Sunny, sinister and surreal – a mystery contact turns out to be an oxygen-tank carrying old lady called Wheezy – it’s the holiday of a lifetime. Fortunately, not our lifetime.

Cast: John Simm Baxter, Marc Warren Rick, Philip Glenister Quinn, Max Beesley Woody,  Leticia Dolera Carmen, Tim Woodward Dominic, Elton Prince Ferryman, Lola Cordon Wheezy, Tina Sainz Dalila, Vicente Diez Hector, Luifer Rodriguez Angelo

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Exile starring John Simm PREVIEW

Tom (John Simm) and the barmaid, Mandy (Claire Goose). Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★★½

BBC1 Sunday, 1 May, 9pm

John Simm is one of the most interesting and watchable actors on British television. He must also be one of the sharpest judges of scripts, because whether he picks something popular, such as Doctor Who or Life on Mars, or something punchier, State of Play or Mad Dogs, the 40-year-old is always believable but popular with it.

Here he teams up with Paul Abbott again (State of Play‘s writer) for a terrific noir thriller about a guy in crisis who ends up returning home and investigating his past.

Tom Ronstadt is an unpleasant swine. He’s a London journalist on a lads’ mag who ‘implodes’, loses the glam job that he’s come to despise and gets dumped by his girlfriend, taking his leave of her by whacking her in the face.

Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent
In turmoil, he returns to his northern hometown for the first time in 18 years. His sister, Nancy (a heartfelt performance by Olivia Colman), has been left looking after their father, Alzheimer-sufferer Sam, a former news journalist, played by Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent.

It was Sam’s savage attack on Tom, whom he’d caught rifling through his papers, that sent the young man into exile down south. What had Tom come close to discovering? The question nags him, and while Nancy urges him to forget the past, but the wound hurts too much, and Tom starts digging.

At first Jim Broadbent seems to have a thankless role to play, stripping off at inappropriate times, barely able to hold a conversation, shouting, occasionally violent. But he is, of course, the key to the story, if only Tom can pierce his mental fog, and Sam becomes a tantalising presence, offering moments of lucidity, even retaining the ability to play the piano with feeling while his brain’s on auto-pilot.

The part that made John Simm’s career
The core of the story is this painful father-son relationship, and behind Tom’s anger is his feeling that they were once a happy family. He remembers a time when there were no rows, no outbursts. ‘What changed?’ he asks the unresponsive Sam.

Danny Brocklehurst, the writer, has produced a drama that is strong and character-focused throughout (Paul Abbott, who effectively made John Simm’s career with the part he wrote for him in Cracker, is the creator of Exile). Even the secondary characters have heart. Mike (Shaun Dooley), the school best mate Tom left behind and with whose barmaid wife Tom sleeps without realising whom she is married to, is a sad, believable figure.

Often, character is revealed  in the little things, such as the way Tom despises the trashy hatchet journalist he became, in comparison to the campaigning newsman that Sam was. The only bum note here is the lavish lifestyle magazine writing seems to have provided for Tom – minimalist designer flat, expensive sports car – that will have most journalists rolling on the carpet.

The Metzler mystery
And then there is the nagging mystery, centring around the name Metzler, which Tom had seen all those years ago just before his father’s assault. Metzler (Timothy West), a business man, is now the leader of the council.

A strong year for crime dramas – there are four excellent series launching in the first week of May alone (Vera, Exile, The Shadow Line, Case Sensitive) – but Exile is definitely one that will lodge in the memory.

Sam (Jim Broadbent) and Tom

Cast: John Simm Tom Ronstadt, Jim Broadbent Sam Ronstadt, Olivia Colman Nancy, Claire Goose Mandy, Shaun Dooley Mike, Timothy West Metzler
Writer Danny Brocklehurst, creator Paul Abbott

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