Save Me, Sky Atlantic, Lennie James, Suranne Jones

Save Me, Sky Atlantic

Stephen Graham, Lennie James and Suranne Jones

An estranged father feels compelled to join the hunt for his missing daughter in this London-set thriller

★★★★ Sky Atlantic, Wednesday, 28 February, 9pm

NELSON ‘NELLY’ ROWE is a chancer, barfly and bit of a rogue. However, he’s shaken out of his comfort zone when he is accused of abducting his estranged 13-year-old daughter, Jody.

The reason he doesn’t see Jody is because she is the result of a summer fling years ago. Her mother, Claire, has not forgotten Nelly, however. She is convinced he has snatched her girl.

Reunited – Suranne Jones as Claire McGory and Lennie James as ‘Nelly’ Rowe

Nelly suddenly realises what he has missed by ignoring Jody. Arrested and horrified to be considered a kidnapper, he resolves to find out where she is.

Suranne Jones and Stephen Graham

This six-parter is nicely written by its star, Lennie James, here a long way from The Walking Dead. The setting is a south London council estate, where life revolves around the local boozer.

The top-notch case includes Suranne Jones as Claire, and Stephen Graham as ‘Melon’, the friend with a secret. Jason Flemyng plays Tam, Nelly’s cross-dressing ally, and Susan Lynch is Stace, landlady of the Palm Tree pub.

A twist to the story is the new man in Claire’s life, Barry (actor Barry Ward). Jody’s adoptive father warns Nelly off, but he appears to have serious problems of his own with some unsavoury characters.

Lennie James as Nellie

It’s a refreshing change to see a drama that is not about lovely middle-class types. These are ordinary folk at the lower end of the social scale, but the characters are well realised and pose intriguing questions.

Spooked – Stephen Graham as Fabio ‘Melon’ Melanzana

What has happened to Jody? Has she fallen victim to a paedophile on the estate? Or is Barry in some way involved?

Lennie James has a good appreciation of this group of characters, most of all Nelly. Fifteen years before Nelly would have ruled the Palm Tree and been a big hit with ladies.

He’s a badly faded local face now. Seeing whether he will be able to finally redeem himself should make Save Me a gripping series.

Low Winter Sun, Fox, with Mark Strong, Lennie James PREVIEW

The cast of Low Winter Sun on FOX.
The cast of Low Winter Sun. Pics: Fox

Rating: ★★★★

Fox UK: starts Friday, 16 August, 10pm

Story: Two detectives murder a drunken colleague in a crime they believe is perfect. However, the next day, before the body is discovered, Internal Affairs start investigating the dead detective.

LOW WINTER SUN was a Channel 4 three-parter from 2006 (see trailer below). It starred Brian McCardie and Mark Strong, with the latter getting the rare chance to reprise his character, detective Frank Agnew, in the new US 10-parter, swapping a Scottish for American accent.

Lennie James as Joe in Low Winter Sun on FOX.
Lennie James as Joe

Detroit, famously in ruins these days, provides a suitably decaying backdrop to this dark tale of moral rot. It’s a gritty, tense ride from the moment the opening credits are done. It’s made by AMC, who have high hopes for the show, as their other supreme successes Breaking Bad and Mad Men are now in their last seasons.

We immediately encounter Frank and detective Joe Geddes, played by another Brit, Lennie James, at a moment of crisis as they prepare to commit a murder.

A perfect murder?

The two conspirators have it in for Brendan McCann, for reasons that are not that clear initially, though

Mark Strong as Frank and David Costabile as Boyd in Low Winter Sun on FOX.
Watch your back – Frank and Boyd

McCann seems to be a paragon of corruption. But is Joe something of an Iago figure here, egging Frank on? ‘The man’s a disease,’ he tells Frank. ‘We’re making it right.’

Frank believes he is basically a good guy, but still falls in with Joe’s reasoning, and together they pull off what they think is a murder that will elude solution by their colleagues.

But the best laid plans and all that… The very next morning events start to spin beyond the two detectives’ grasp. Internal Affairs turn up at the office to investigate Brendan before anyone knows he is dead, and elsewhere in the city Brendan was supposed to be conducting a drug raid and handing over some of the merchandise to his criminal partners.

David Costabile is terrific as the Internal Affairs rottweiler

Instead, these partners, Nick and Damon, go ahead and ripped off the dealer, who has major connections, and steal the whole consignment of cocaine. Meanwhile, Frank and Joe are already looking daggers at each other.

It’s a breathless opening. Lennie James, who we recently saw as another bent cop in the BBC’s Line of Duty, matches Mark Strong stare for sneer. And David Costabile has toughened up since his appearance in Breaking Bad as mild chemist Gale to play the rottweiler IA investigator Boyd.

The dialogue is terse –

Billy Lush as Nick, Sprague Grayden as Maya and James Ransone as Damon in Low Winter Sun on FOX
Criminals – Nick, Maya and Damon

Boyd: ‘Are you and Joe Geddes friends?’

Frank: ‘How do you mean?’

Boyd: ‘Are. You. Friends?’

This is a dirty game and Detroit certainly looks like the last place in the world to be a good guy. While this is also a grim set of characters, the urge to see how Low Winter Sun is going to unfold is pretty irresistible – particularly with the humdinger of a twist that hits us at the end of episode one.

Cast: Mark Strong Frank Agnew, Lennie James Joe Geddes, James Ransone Damon Callis, Ruben Santiago-Hudson Charles Dawson,  Sprague Grayden Maya Callis,  Athena Karkanis Dani Kahlil, Billy Lush Nick Paflas, David Costabile Simon Boyd

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Run, C4, Olivia Colman, Lennie James, Jaime Winstone, Neil Maskell PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: Monday 15-Thursday 18 July, 10pm

Story: Four seemingly unconnected stories about people at crunch moments in their lives, including single-mum Carol, whose sons are wanted by the police, and illegal immigrant Ying…

HATS OFF TO CHANNEL 4 for steering clear of the period dramas and cop procedurals we see so much of on the other sides.

Last year they gave us the thought-provoking Murder: Joint Enterprise (which will return), earlier this year we had the jaunty but not entirely successful Utopia. Now C4 is stripping this new rough-edged, four-part drama through the week.

Olivia Colman

Outside of Jimmy McGovern, most TV dramas steer clear of working-class life these days. Run, however, is an honest attempt to bring talented established stars and newcomers together to tell four linking tales that take a walk on the poverty-stricken side of Britain that goes on all around us.

Olivia Colman ditches that nice detective persona from Broadchurch to play a foul-mouthed single mum, bringing up two teenage boys who have few redeeming features. Dean batters his girlfriend Tracey, while Terry tags along.

Carol herself is the kind of woman who is vilified in the media these days for not being middle-class enough. She is coarse, ignores Dean giving Trace a ‘slap’ and nicks stuff from the warehouse where she works. She lives on an estate, is separated from her psycho boyfriend, played sublimely by Neil Maskell, and is fighting to hold her life of tears and fags together.

Carol discovers her sons’ secret

It is while Dean is dragging Trace around by the hair in a car park that a passerby sees him, and carries on passing by. Being a nutter, Dean wants to know what the stranger is looking at, before joining forces with his brother to beat the man to death. Downton Abbey it ain’t.

Carol has an inkling that something’s wrong when she finds the boys’ bloody clothes in the laundry. When she suggests to their father they should tell the police it was an accident, Kieran – whose normal mode of communication is with his fists – punches her.

Run is created and written by newcomers Marlon Smith and Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and succeeds in

getting us to see the world through Carol’s eyes. It’s brutal, and the language will make your eyes water at times. But for all its bleakness, it finds the traces of humanity that still bind people together despite their poverty and lack of opportunities.

Part two follows up with Ying’s story. We’ve seen her buying stolen goods from Carol, but learn that Ying (Katie Leung) is an illegal immigrant facing a painful future in debt to a Snakehead gang. Wednesday’s story is about struggling heroin addict Richard (Lennie James), and Thursday’s about Kasia (Katharina Schuttler), a Polish woman in London who is struggling to make a living while contending with her gambling-addict boyfriend.

Hard-hitting and affecting, the stories are well-acted and refreshingly frank.

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Line of Duty series 2, Sebastian Bergman novel, Ruth Rendell’s Thirteen Steps Down on ITV1

• So, Line of Duty has been recommissioned for a second series, having concluded with the suicide of Lennie James’ character DCI Tony Gates at the end of the five-parter. The Beeb’s honchos are pleased with viewing figures of between three and four million for the drama, and Jed Mercurio did a fine job in creating a cop show that veered away from the boring procedural cliches – homicide cops turning up at a murder scene etc – for a more realistic slant on modern policing and corruption.

DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON), Detective Constable Kate Fleming (VICKY McCLURE)
Arnott and Fleming. Pic: BBC

The series had some tremendous twists, but the problem with stunning plot swerves is that the story then has to work bloody hard to make sense of them – and this is where Line of Duty went off the rails for me. Jackie’s murder was a gobsmacking moment, but was Gates’ appearance and framing for her murder fortuitous? Surely, it could not have been planned, so the killers, who were not that bright, suddenly improvised by setting up the detective? Gates’ suicide was another shocker, but somehow seemed a little false. After all, this was the great survivor, who insisted to the last that he wasn’t bent and loved his family.

And of course Dot’s emergence right at the end as the real supervillain was another stunner. So this suggests he knew of Tony’s secret affair with Jackie, and we were left to assume he somehow engineered his boss’s framing and downfall, though this was never explained. Arnott and Kate lying that Gates was pursuing the suspect when he was killed was ludicrous – there was a whole traffic jam of motorists behind who could have testified that that was not the case.

The Guardian has a good blog on the series, and they rightly point out that Line of Duty could have done with more episodes. And I also agree that it was more interesting when it was dealing with Tony’s corruption, before Jackie’s murder.

Overall, it was engrossing, and Lennie James, Vicki McClure, Adrian Dunbar and Neil Morrissey were all convincing in their respective roles. Series two should be interesting.

• Watch out for the forthcoming novel of Sebastian Bergman, on which BBC4’s recent two-parter from Sweden was based. I’ve been sent it by the excellent Shots ezine to review and I’m just about to start it. It’s written by a duo called (Michael) Hjorth (Hans) Rosenfeldt (the latter being the creator of The Bridge), and Rolf Lassgård was excellent as the police profiler tormented by the deaths of his wife and child in a tsunami.

• TV is absorbed with running, jumping, swimming and cycling at the moment, but there are one or two drama gems tucked in amid the London medal chases. Ruth Rendell’s Thirteen Steps Down comes to ITV1 on Wednesday, 1 August. Rendell seems to have less of a profile than she did 10 or 15 years ago, but she is still the queen of the disturbing psychological thriller. This two-parter, starring Luke Treadaway, Geraldine James and Elarica Gallacher, revolves around Max and the fantasies he has that steer him towards becoming a potential murderer. Preview coming next week.

• Finally, dreary Downton Abbey is up against Breaking Bad for best drama at this year’s Emmys. Breaking what? you may ask if you reside in Britain, owing to the criminal lack of airspace being given to this totally superb series in the UK. It’s better than Downton by miles, better than Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire – all of whom are in the face-off for the gong. Channel 5 showed series one and two of BB, which stars Bryan Cranston as a chemistry teacher with cancer who decides to become a illegal drug manufacturer. In terms of visually superb storytelling, originality and fine acting, BB is way out in front. Coming soon – CrimeTimePreview’s national campaign to get Breaking Bad back on our screens. Or you could get the DVD… Follow @crimetimeprev

Line of Duty starring Lennie James PREVIEW

Line of Duty: DCI James, DS Arnott and DC Fleming. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC2: starts Tuesday, 26 June, 9pm

Story: Steve Arnott is a young officer who’s fallen foul of his superiors for refusing to help in the cover-up of an operation that ended in the shooting of an innocent father. He seems ideal to join AC-12, an anti-corruption police unit, just as it starts to investigate Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates, the regional force’s Officer of the Year.

Dodgy cops and a public cheated of decent policing are the themes of this bold and tense new thriller. An intelligent, gripping drama that delves into the reality of modern policing is long overdue.

Lennie James plays DCI Tony Gates, a Jag-driving, highly commended detective with a complicated professional and private life. Adrian Dunbar is the ‘zealot’ anti-corruption cop, Superintendent Hastings, who suspects that Gates’ glowing record and outstanding clear-up rate is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Fleming wants to join the ‘big, sexy’ crime squad

He drafts in young DS Steve Arnott, played by Martin Compston – who has refused his previous boss’s order to help cover-up police failings that resulted in the killing of an innocent man – to join his crusade against bent coppers. Trouble is, Steve is not sure Gates is up to no good. When Hastings cites Gates for not reporting a free restaurant meal he accepted, Arnott’s belief that Hastings is just picking on a good officer seems to be confirmed.

Vicky McClure as DC Fleming
Writer/producer Jed Mercurio deftly and quickly establishes a murky and troubling depiction of modern coppering, with characters treading a fine line between getting the job done and breaking the rules.

His story introduces us to the practice of ‘laddering’, or cherry-picking easy cases, then adding a series of bogus charges that never make it to court but boost an officer’s clear-up figures. And we also see DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) being ordered to ‘prioritise’ – pursue two out of three cases, while downgrading a third that can’t be resolved quickly.

What makes the drama captivating is that there are so many grey areas around the characters, particularly Gates. He disarms a thug trying to mug a young mother, but also helps his girlfriend (Gina McKee) to dodge a drink-driving rap, which he doesn’t realise is actually a hit-and-run killing.

DCI Gates’ ‘big, sexy’ crime squad
Fleming also notices him massaging his caseload, but is he a crook? Watching Hastings and his boys trying to prove it over five episodes will be intriguing, but it is a refreshing change to see a mainstream UK crime drama that isn’t about ingenious serial killers or murderers in picturesque settings.

Watchful: Gates and Morton

Gates’ ‘big, sexy’ crime squad TO-20 is an all-male club that includes Gates’ loyal followers DS Matt ‘Dot’ Cottan, DC Deepak Kapoor and DC Nigel Morton. It’s a club that ambitious Kate Fleming wants to join. Gates has an aura as the force’s star attraction and most would back his confidence that he can see off Hastings and AC-12.

Mercurio, the man who created the excellent drama Cardiac Arrest, says of the drama’s genesis, ‘My research revealed that modern policing is a far cry from the familiar world of most police dramas. Police procedures have been transformed by a target culture that dictates which crimes get investigated – and which don’t. Forces across the country routinely drop one in three reported crimes to concentrate on cases that can be solved within a workable timeframe by workable manpower… These revelations provided the perfect setting for our thriller, the less familiar precinct wherein the police police themselves.’

Lennie James must be delighted that Mercurio’s role of the sharp-witted police boss Gates came his way. He puts in a classy performance as the copper’s copper, and watching him trying to keep his empire together is going to be one of the summer’s main TV attractions.

Cast: Lennie James DCI Tony Gates, Martin Compston DS Steve Arnott, Vicky McClure DC Kate Fleming, Gina McKee Jackie Laverty, Adrian Dunbar Superintendent Ted Hastings, Craig Parkinson DS Matt ‘Dot’ Cottan, Neil Morrissey DC Nigel Morton, Faraz Ayub DC Deepak Kapoor

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