An Inspector Calls, BBC1, David Thewlis, Miranda Richardson

The Inspector (DAVID THEWLIS) Credit: BBC Pictures/Drama Republic

Unwanted guest: David Thewlis as the mysterious inspector

The classic mystery is updated in gripping style

★★★★ BBC1, Sunday, 13 September, 8.30pm

8958140-low_res-an-inspector-calls Eric Birling (FINN COLE), Sybil Birling (MIRANDA RICHARDSON), Arthur Birling (KEN STOTT), Sheila Birling (CHLOE PIRRIE)

The Birlings: played by Finn Cole, Miranda Richardson, Ken Stott and Chloe Pirrie

WHILE AMERICAN networks push the boundaries of TV drama with nihilistic protagonists and provocatively adult storylines – Breaking Bad, Banshee, True Detective – their British cousins still prefer the drawing-room comforts of the classic cosy-era detective tale.

So, hot on the heels of Poirot, Father Brown and Tommy and Tuppence comes this adaptation of JB Priestley’s 1912-set country house mystery play, first performed in 1945 and which went on to become something of a classic, even a staple of the GCSE syllabus.

Many viewers will be familiar with it. It’s undoubtedly a contrived, stagey and preachy drama, but this BBC production, adapted by playwright Helen Edmundson and directed by award-winning Aisling Walsh, breathes life into the rather spooky tale with a classy and compelling production.

Miranda Richardson and Ken Stott

And the cast! Everyone is terrific as the mystery unfolds, with David Thewlis severe as the unwanted inspector who turns up during a dinner party at the wealthy Birling residence. Ken Stott is spot on as industrialist Arthur Birling and Miranda Richardson horribly callous as his wife, Sybil.

As their implicated but rebellious children Chloe Pirrie (recently seen in The Game) and Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders) are both pitch perfect. Finally, Kyle Soller is suitably patrician as Gerald, veering from smug to horrified at his own misuse of Eva Smith

Sophie Rundle appears in flashbacks as Eva, the victim of all the Birlings’ sneers and betrayals. This character never appears in the play, but Helen Edmundson follows the 1954 Alastair Sim movie in bringing her decline into focus. [Read more…]

Third degree: Ian Rankin

Ken Stott as Rebus with Claire Price as Siobhan Clarke

WE’VE dragged one of Britain’s major crime practitioners in for questioning. Multi-award-winning Ian Rankin is the creator of Edinburgh detective inspector John Rebus, the tenacious but chippy hero of bestsellers such as Black and Blue, Fleshmarket Close and Resurrection Men. The character was turned into a series by STV with first John Hannah and then Ken Stott portraying him. ITV filmed Rankin’s standalone novel Doors Open in 2012. After retiring Rebus in Exit Music, he introduced his readers to Malcolm Fox in The Complaints, before bringing Rebus back in 2012’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave.

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

Edge of Darkness.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

Hill Street Blues.

Do you watch much TV these days, and if you do, which crime series are you enjoying?

I don’t watch much TV. Other media seem to get in the way. I find myself stockpiling DVD box sets for that elusive rainy day.

All-time top TV cop?

Top TV cop has to be Jack Regan. No, wait – Columbo. Or Jane Tennison…

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
I’d love to see Adrian McKinty’s Troubles-era Northern Ireland books on TV or film.

Rebus has already been filmed by ITV, but what about Malcolm Fox? Which actor would be good playing him?

I never have a clear idea of my main characters’ faces and physiques so it’s hard for me to say who
the perfect actor would be. Sean Connery once told me that if he’d been 20 years younger he’d have jumped at the chance to play Rebus.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?

I thought TV made a right hash of Liza Cody’s terrific Anna Lee books.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

The Sopranos probably edges it, despite the ending.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Never a huge fan of Agatha. So it has to be Sherlock. I was very impressed by the modern reworking of the character and stories.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Ooh, tough. Branagh is always watchable, even when not doing very much. But I have to plump for the original, don’t I?

US or British television crime dramas?

Robbie Coltrane as Cracker

I like both, but I’m feeling patriotic, so I’ll say UK. Prime Suspect, Life on Mars, Cracker – all British, all class.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

To be comprehensive, it would be a very long list. It would include Ruth Rendell, Lawrence Block, Leo Malet, Michael Connelly, but also Pascal Garnier (who I’ve just discovered), etc etc…

Have you read a crime novel that’s really knocked you out lately?

Pascal Garnier’s The Islanders. Is it crime? Psychological suspense? His books are like non-Maigret Simenon novels.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?

Again, there are so many: Muriel Spark, Thomas Pynchon, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson…

Favourite crime movie or thriller?

The Third Man. Or The Godfather. Or The Maltese Falcon. Maybe The Long Good Friday. Or Get Carter…

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?

It would have to be Rebus. He knows the territory and has a pretty solid record.

Ian’s latest Rebus novel is Saints of the Shadow Bible, which is out now in paperback. For all the latest on him, check out ianrankin.net

Follow @crimetimeprev

Martina Cole’s The Runaway, Sky1 – PREVIEW

Newcomer Joanna Vanderham as Cathy. Pics: BSkyB

Rating ★★★★½

Sky1, from Thursday, 31 March, 9pm

Some people read one Martina Cole novel and stop there – the books being too nasty for their taste.

So this brutish new series about London criminals based on one of her blockbusters will not please those folk who like to gaze at the pretty cottages on Midsomer Murders or the 1920s fashions on Marple.

It’s an unflinching take on the world of nasty men, prostitutes, abused women and rotten coppers. If DCI Barnaby or Hercule Poirot stumbled into Cole’s world, they would get a knife across the face, a knee in the balls and flung into the gutter – probably by one of the women.

Jack O’Connell as Eamonn

Cathy and Eamonn are childhood sweethearts, but there’s nothing sweet about their upbringing under the roof of her prostitute mother, Madge (Kierston Wareing), and if anyone has a heart it’s very dark.

Joanna Vanderham
‘I love you, Cathy,’ says Eamonn, played by Jack O’Connell (Skins). ‘I’ll make you happy, I promise,’ he says, before making her cry after crudely taking her virginity. Then he cries, and she forgives him. Everyone hurts the one they love.

Cole’s characters are selfish, cruel, gutsy, contradictory, but somehow believable. ‘I know I’m a shit mother, but I love you,’ says Madge in a typically paradoxical moment.

The world in The Runaway is unsentimental and rough, and if you’ve ever wondered what gangsters and armed robbers are really like, then this seems a plausible portrayal of the criminal breed.

‘You’re going away’
Cathy, played by Joanna Vanderham in her debut role, finds herself in the frame for murdering one of her mother’s vile punters, before a detective played by Burn Gorman (a long way from Lark Rise here) frames someone else for the crime – ‘You’re going away because I’ve made up my mind.’

Keith Allen, Jack O’Connell, Joanna Vanderham, Alan Cumming and Ken Stott

Meanwhile, Eamonn, who we first see spraying another man’s blood round the boxing ring, is making a violent reputation for himself while trying to join the local ‘firm’ run by a badly bewigged Keith Allen. Cathy ends up running away to Soho after being taken into care.

The action is set to shift to their adult lives as the East End kids grow into adults. They are drawn back together and survive in the London underworld of the 70s, before Eamonn eventually flees to New York.

Alan Cumming

I’ve only seen the opener and so missed the return of Alan Cumming in his first British TV role for 15 years, as the transvestite Desrae, who befriends Cathy. Ken Stott will also crop up. On the basis of ep1, The Runaway offers a punch to the solar plexus of TV crime drama that adds something fresh and distinctive.

The Runaway is grittier than most UK crime shows
So many crime dramas these days are either forensic porn, detective-and-sidekick yarns or costume series, such as Inspector George Gently and Marple. It’s shrewd of Sky1 to continue doing something different following last year’s The Take and Thorne. The channel is certainly offering crime drama that is more edgy than the Beeb and ITV.

And it was daring of them to pluck 19-year-old Joanna Vanderham from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama for her first starring role. Despite being called on to play plenty of emotionally charged moments, and the odd nude scene, the debutant comes through with credit. And in case you’re wondering, she’s not a Cockney but a Scot, from Perth.

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