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.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/stateofplay/

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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Accused 1, Inspector Montalbano 2 DVD REVIEW

DVD: ★★★★½
Extras: ★★★

Six episodes of terrific writing and great acting. Jimmy McGovern, the man behind Cracker, The Street and The Lakes and the lead writer on these stories, is so respected by actors that this hard-hitting series about men and women who find themselves accused of crimes attracted an A-list of British talent – Marc Warren, Andy Serkis, Christopher Eccleston, Naomie Harris, Mackenzie Crook, Ben Smith, Peter Capaldi and Juliet Stevenson. Each story is powerful, dealing with moral dilemmas and ordinary people at crisis points in their lives who end up in the dock – but should they be there? And each begs the question of what would you, the viewer, have done. The series won an International Emmy for best drama, along with Christopher Eccleston for best actor, as the man who finds a wodge of cash in a taxi and ends up in a great deal of trouble. Mackenzie Crook plays against his comic persona as a psychotic soldier, while Marc Warren is the dad who goes after a man suspected of assaulting his daughter, with tragic results. This story, Jimmy McGovern reveals in the DVD’s extras, was partly based on his own experience. ‘There is a fine line between being in prison and out of prison,’ says McGovern. ‘There but for the grace of god…’ Thought-provoking and compelling drama.
Running time: 385 mins, two discs. RRP £19.99. Cert 15

DVD: ★★★★ 

Extras: ★★★ 
This Italian-made dramatisation of Andrea Camilleri‘s popular novels, starring Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano, captures much of the magic of the books – the setting, the Sicilian lifestyle, the food and the interplay of characters – some wily, some comic. This three-DVD set has six 90-minute films, most of which were shown in the UK earlier this year (but were actually made a decade or so ago). These are Excursion to Tindari, The Artist’s Touch, Montalbano’s Croquettes, The Scent of the Night and The Goldfinch and the Cat. Though the series is subtitled and tucked away on BBC4, it has won a loyal core of devotees. The stories deal with chilling crimes involving murder or drugs, with Montalbano swerving between the Mafia and the expediences of his superiors, while viewers undoubtedly revel in the glimpses into Sicilian life, Montalbano’s beautiful beach house and his infidelity, as he occasionally sneaks away from his lover to enjoy a favourite meal. Gripping and mouthwatering at the same time. Extras include a biography of Andrea Camilleri.
Running time: 611mins, three discs, RRP £25.99, Cert 15

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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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Without You starring Anna Friel PREVIEW

Anna Friel as Ellie, the widow turned sleuth. Pics: ITV
Rating ★★★★½

ITV1 from Thursday, 8 December, 9pm

Story: Ellie and her husband Greg are planning a romantic evening in when he returns from work in the evening. He later calls to say he is going to be late, but when the doorbell finally rings long after he said he would be home, it is two police officers on the doorstep, not Greg. They tell Ellie that Greg has been killed in a car crash. There was an unidentified woman in the car with him…

‘Tis the season to be jolly and in the run up to Christmas TV bosses tend to save the new cop shows and thrillers for the harsh reality of January. But before we’re inundated with Jim’ll Fix It reboots and Downton Abbey specials, ITV1 has sneaked this fine psychological thriller into the schedule to keep us going.

Anna Friel plays Ellie Manning, who one horrendous evening is confronted by two WPCs at her door. They’ve come to tell her that Greg, the husband with whom she was playing to conceive a child, has been killed in a car crash. 

Happier times – Ellie and Greg
Her grief is heaped with shock and anger by the revelation that a woman was in the car wreck. She turns out to be glam blonde businesswoman Milena Livingstone.

Greg’s mystery woman
Greg’s colleagues at the accountancy firm where he works and his friends say they have no idea who she is. But the consensus is, well, you know what men are like, always thinking with their appendage, doesn’t mean he didn’t love her etc.
Was Ellie’s love a sham? Was Greg, played by Marc Warren, cheating on her all along? Ellie is desperate to believe in her marriage and her husband, so she turns detective and tries to find out what Milena Livingstone was doing in Greg’s car that night.

Having watched the first episode, I couldn’t wait to see the rest. The danger with many thrillers is that they have a great hook, but then descend is convoluted stupid twists to keep viewers on the line.

Nicci Gerrard and Sean French
Without You, based on the Nicci French novel What to Do When Someone Dies, is way better than that, being solidly focused on well-imagined, believable characters.

Sean French, one half of the novel’s writing team along with Nicci Gerrard, says of the story, ‘What we wanted to do in this book was to write a thriller and a love story but also explore what it was like for a woman going through the process of grief with all its strange stages and feelings and try to weave these strands together… In a way Ellie learns more about her husband after he’s died than when he was there. So he’s both an absent character but a powerful presence.’
Ellie’s digging takes her to Greg’s workplace
The casting works a treat, with Anna Friel moving from vulnerable grief and anger to going slightly off the rails. Marc Warren, who we see flashbacks and Ellie’s fantasy chats/arguments after his death, has just the right level of Jack the Lad about him to make us wonder whether he was cheating.

Beautifully told story
And the story, told in three episodes, is well-observed – from Ellie’s insecure provoking of a row with Greg’s mother at his funeral, to her dismally having to switch off the romantic dinner she was preparing on what turned out to be his last night alive, to her catching a cab in her nightie in the middle of the night to visit the car-crash scene.

When Ellie then defies everyone else’s opinion and starts blundering about piecing together Greg’s life and who Milena Livingstone was, a compelling story unfolds. As a portrayal of the stages of grief and a psychological journey, Without You is a beautifully told story.

Cast: Anna Friel Ellie Manning, Marc Warren Greg Manning, Barnaby Kay Joe Foreman, 

Olivia Poulet Gwen Abbot, Simon Trinder Fergus, Tim Woodward Hugo Livingstone, Heidi Monsen Milena Livingstone, Pippa Haywood Frances Shaw, Liam McMahon Johnny Lansdowne, Paul Ritter Inspector Ramsay,

 
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Accused, new crime drama PREVIEW

Christopher Eccleston as Willy (pics: BBC)

BBC1, Mondays from 15 November, 9pm

Rating ★★★★

In Jimmy McGovern’s Accused there is no opening shot of a murder scene, no serial killers and no detective with regulation sidekick.

The stories in this series of six are crime dramas with the emphasis on drama, exploring how ordinary people end up in the dock. Are they guilty, innocent or victims of circumstance?

Christopher Eccleston, who became known via McGovern’s Cracker before appearing in other works by the writer, including Hillsborough, is light years from Doctor Who in this opening episode. He plays Willy, a plumber with a family who wants to clear off with his younger lover.

Pookie Quesnel, Marc Warren, Juliet Stevenson
Just as he’s about to drop his bombshell to his other half, Carmel, his daughter announces she is marrying her boyfriend. His marriage split delayed, Willy finds he can’t finance his daughter Laura’s wedding when his bank card is declined. The building firm that owes him thousands for his plumbing work has gone bust.

Later, in the back of a mini cab he finds the apparent answer to his problems – £20,000 in a Jiffy bag. Loyal Carmel, played movingly by Pookie Quesnel, wants him to hand it in, but despite his best intentions, events take a disastrous turn.

McGovern, a champion of excellent drama with successes such as The Lakes and recently The Street, steers clear away from the norms and cliches of your typical cop show. He says, ‘No police procedure, thanks very much, no coppers striding along corridors with coats flapping. Just crime and punishment – the two things that matter most in any crime drama.’

Future episodes will see Mackenzie Crook (right) as a corporal in a story about not obeying orders; Juliet Stevenson and Peter Capaldi as parents of a fatally injured son; Marc Warren as a dad who acts against his better judgment; and Naomie Harris and Warren Brown as parents whose row causes reckless actions.


Wants to leave his wife for ‘firmer flesh’

Willy’s Story is a good drama, though Willy, with his chippyness and selfishness, is not that sympathetic a protagonist. Eccleston describes him as a loving family man, but if that was the intention, somehow it didn’t come across in the execution.

Certainly, many women will be hard pushed to root for a man who impulsively wants to dump his wife because he fancies some ‘firmer flesh’, as Willy tells the priest who gives him unwanted advice.

But the point with McGovern is often about people in glass houses. And perhaps the strength of Willy’s Story lies in something revealed about this production by Eccleston.

When the actors’ read-through of the script was finished, a vote was taken among those present on whether Willy should go down. The vote was split.

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