Fortitude, Sky Atlantic, Sofie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston PREVIEW

Sky Atlantic’s much-anticipated new crime series is a slow thaw, but it has a great cast and a terrific setting


Stanley Tucci as DCI Eugene Morton; Sophie Grabol as Hildur Odegard; Christopher Eccleston as Professor Charlie Stoddart in fortitude
In cold blood – murder comes to Fortitude, with Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston. Pics: Sky

Rating: ★★★½

Sky Atlantic: starts Thursday, 29 January, 9pm

Story: In the close-knit community of Fortitude in the Arctic Circle, a murder touches everyone and the unsettling horror of the crime threatens the future of the town itself.

AN AVALANCHE of hype has accompanied Sky’s Arctic thriller. At a rumoured £25million it has cost more than the entire budget of the Sky Arts channel, apparently. It’s meant to pitch Sky Atlantic into the HBO league of major drama creators. It’s the network’s most ambitious series ever etc etc.

Richard Dormer as Dan Anderssen in Fortitude
Sheriff Dan doesn’t think the town is big enough for him and Morton

With a terrific international roster of actors including Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Dormer and Sienna Guillory, it certainly grabs the attention. And devotees of recent dark mysteries such as The Killing and Broadchurch will also be intrigued by an unusual 11-parter set in an almost surreal frozen setting.

But, on viewing it, how does Fortitude measure up? I thought it got off to a slightly bewildering start.

Sofie Grabol is Fortitude’s governor

Michael Gambon as Henry Tyson in Fortitude
Wildlife photographer Henry makes a horrid discovery

The opening feature-length episode is stunningly set in an Icelandic town, but it hurriedly throws so many characters and storylines at you that the first hour leaves you a bit, well, cold.

It begins with Michael Gambon’s Henry stumbling on a savage scene on the seafront, which is immediately disconcerting. Then a young lad is stricken with a mystery illness and is left by his father, who’s having illicit sex with a hotel receptionist.

Meanwhile, the discovery of a mammoth’s remains by two chancers threatens the plans of the governor, Hildur (The Killing‘s Sofie Grabol), to redevelop Fortitude.

We also meet the town’s odd but charming PCs Ingrid and Petra, and new arrival Vincent (played by Luke Treadaway), who’s here to help Professor Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston).

Stanley Tucci as DCI Morton

There’s more, but the blizzard of plotlines comes to a halt when a grisly murder is discovered, and the town with no crime is abruptly revealed to actually harbour very dark undercurrents.

Mia Jexen as PC Ingrid; Alexandra Moen as PC Petra in Fortitude
Ingrid and Petra

It is when Stanley Tucci’s character, DCI Eugene Morton, arrives from London that the drama gels and we get our bearings (though how an American with FBI credentials happens to be working for London’s Metropolitan Police is again confusing).

Morton is confronted by the antagonistic sheriff (Richard Dormer), which sets up the juicy prospect of a running battle between the pair.

After what is a messy opening episode, Fortitude could well develop into a sharp and intriguing drama. Created by Simon Donald, who wrote C4’s gritty crime series Low Winter Sun, it is certainly original, with a savage but beautiful setting.

Continued…

Sofie Grabol shows her versatility by throwing off her strutting detective Sarah Lund from The Killing to play an under-pressure politician with an agenda. Tucci is very watchable as the outsider poking his nose in, and there are certainly enough murky goings-on to keep viewers guessing.

Luke Treadaway as Vincent Rattre; Sienna Guillory as Natalie Yelburton in Fortitude
Newcomer Vincent (Luke Treadaway) meets Natalie (Sienna Guillory)

I’ve seen it compared to Twin Peaks, which is misleading. But Fortitude is in the rich vein of contemporary dark crime series full of compromised heroes.

Sky will be anxious that it snowballs into a bigger hit than its previously acclaimed series The Take (2009) and Mad Dogs (2011), but, while refreshingly bold, it doesn’t put them in the same league as HBO and True Detective just yet.

Cast: Richard Dormer Sheriff Dan Anderssen, Stanley Tucci DCI Eugene Morton, Michael Gambon Henry Tyson, Sofie Grabol Governor Hildur Odegard, Christopher Eccleston Professor Charlie Stoddart, Luke Treadaway Vincent Rattrey, Jessica Raine Jules Sutter, Nicholas Pinnock Frank Sutter, Johnny Harris Ronnie Morgan, Veronica Echegui Elena Ledesma, Sienna Guillory Natalie Yelburton, Darren Boyd Markus Huseklepp, Mia Jexen PC Ingrid, Alexandra Moen PC Petra, Darwin Brokenbro Liam Sutter, Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips Carrie Morgan, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson Eric Odegard, Chipo Chung Trish Stoddart, Phoebe Nicholls Doctor Allerdyce

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Fortitude, January 2015 – sneak peek

SKY ATLANTIC’S starry new thriller Fortitude is set to hit the small screen in January. Its international cast includes Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Sofie Grabol, Richard Dormer and Luke Treadaway. Set in an isolated town in the Arctic Circle, and filmed in Iceland and the UK, the series is a 12-parter and will be one of the biggest productions on Sky next year. The story will follow how the small community is shattered by a rare violent crime, the mysterious horror of which threatens Fortitude’s future… Anyway, here’s a brief taster.

Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston

Michael Gambon; Richard Dormer

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Sofie Grabol in Fortitude, Montalbano’s B&B

The Killing‘s Sofie Grabol, pictured, has signed to star in what Sky Atlantic’s calling its ‘biggest drama to date’. Fortitude is a 13-part co-production with the Starz network in the US, and will also feature Michael Gambon and Stanley Tucci. Created and written by Simon Donald, the man behind Low Winter Sun, it will start filming in London and Reykjavik later this year. Fortitude is set in the midst of a polar landscape, one of the safest towns on earth. There has never been a violent crime there. Until now. When a British research scientist is murdered, the crime touches everyone in the close-knit community. Sofie Grabol will play the town’s mayor.

Montalbano and Young Montalbano may have said arrivederci to their BBC4 devotees for now, but anyone who’s salivated over Salvo’s lovely beachside house may be interested to know it’s a bed and breakfast for holidaymakers when filming stops. Ivana Micciché has contacted CrimeTimePreview and tells me she had the idea for the B&B in 2004. She sends these pictures of the detective’s house, and says anyone interested in stopping by should check out this site for La Casa di Montalbano.

• So the Crime Writers’ Association has just celebrated its 60th anniversary by voting for its favourite novel, series and author. Here’s the result:

Best Ever Novel: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie
Best Ever Series: Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Best Ever Author: Agatha Christie

Personally, I find Agatha Christie pretty dull – which I know is sacrilege. As a CWA member, I voted for Elmore Leonard (best author), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (novel) and Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor books (series).

So, I’d like to ask anyone reading this – what’s your poison (so to speak)? Comments welcome below…

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Lucan, ITV, with Rory Kinnear, Christopher Eccleston, Michael Gambon PREVIEW

Lucan, ITV: RORY KINNEAR s Lord Lucan and CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON as John Aspinall.
High-rollers Lord Lucan (Rory Kinnear) and John Aspinall (Christopher Eccleston). Pics : ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Wednesday, 11 December, 9pm

Story: Desperate to get custody of his children, professional gambler Lord Lucan plots to make his wife Veronica ‘disappear’…

IT IS ALMOST FUNNY that Lord Lucan, professional gambler and murder suspect, was known by the nickname ‘Lucky’. However, this story, based on true events, is too full of callousness and cowardice to be a laughing matter.

The sobriquet was given to him by his chums after the Earl won £26,000 in one night’s gambling.

Lucan, ITV: CATHERINE MCCORMACK as Veronice Lucan.
Isolated – Veronica Lucan (Catherine McCormack)

But as ITV’s riveting two-part drama reveals, it soon became an ironic moniker as Lucky started haemorrhaging thousands of pounds at the Clermont Club, owned by his pal John Aspinall.

In the drama he also fails to bully his wife Veronica into a psychiatric institution and loses his custody battle with her for their three children, making him distraught that his position in life as a gambler and Earl did not entitle him to take precedence over her.

Final gamble is cowardly and disastrous

And then his final throw of the dice also goes disastrously for Lucky when, instead of killing his wife in a plan to make her disappear, he kills his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, by accident.

Lucan, ITV: MICHAEL GAMBON as Older Burke and PAUL FREEMAN as John Pearson.
Author John Pearson (Paul Freeman) and Burke (Michael Gambon)

The 1974 crime is a cause célèbre, as is Lucan’s amazing disappearance. Despite many reported sightings of the Earl around the world, his fate remains unknown. ITV’s Jeff Pope, whose script won a Bafta for his drama See No Evil: The Moors Murders, here delves into a world of incredible snobbery and class arrogance to explore events before and after the 1974 murder.

Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Lucan has less to do with the charismatic, Aston Martin-driving gad about town of repute, than a cruel, introverted chancer who’s flung away his money and is obsessed with regaining his children.

Christopher Eccleston is chilling

Lucan, ITV: LEANNE BEST as Sandra Rivett
The nanny, Sandra Rivett (Leanne Best)

The most terrifying character on show is Christopher Eccleston’s John Aspinall, who owned the Clermont – in real life he later became well known as a zoo owner. His approach to human relations here owes much to the law of the jungle, and he encourages his friend Lucan to crush Veronica through the courts without mercy.

When that fails, he almost encourages something more extreme. ‘I’m your friend,’ he says to the moping Earl, ‘but I cannot help you if will not help yourself.’ This is a man who milks his ‘friend’ Lucan for all his money via his gambling club and bemoans the fact that people of breeding are losing control of the country, conveniently ignoring the fact that he was born out of wedlock, the son of a soldier.

Lucan, ITV: RORY KINNEAR s Lord Lucan and Exttras from the show, Myrtle Vraets and Kya Garwood
High life – Lucan at the Clermont

Veronica appears to have been treated with huge cruelty and callousness by the Clermont set, most of whom seem to believe she should leave her husband alone to throw away all of his wealth.

John Pearson’s book The Gamblers

The drama is based on John Pearson’s book The Gamblers, and speculation and fictionalised characters are used to tell the tale. That Lucan’s now grown-up children, Lady Camilla Bloch and George Bingham, have been voicing their fears over the drama is a reminder that dramatising real-life crimes to some degree appropriates the lives and memories of surviving family members.

However, conscientious dramas such as Five Daughters and Appropriate Adult have been serious attempts to understand notorious murders or examine the wrong done to innocent, decent victims. Lucan is a worthwhile and compelling look at a brutal unresolved crime that still makes the headlines today, along with the social world that engendered it.

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Quirke, BBC1, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Gambon, Geraldine Somerville PREVIEW

Quirke (GABRIEL BYRNE) BBC
Gabriel Byrne as Quirke. Pic: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: date and time to be announced

Story: A chief pathologist investigates the death of a young woman in childbirth who has ties to his own family.

HERE’S A DRAMA that ticks all the boxes. It’s a crime yarn based on a novel by a literary writer, scripted by Andrew Davies, with a prestige cast, and it’s got period costumes.
Gabriel Byrne stars as Quirke, the 1950s Dublin pathologist and accidental detective who each week will, between pints in smoky pubs, investigate the lives of those who end up on his slab. Michael Gambon is his adoptive father, a rather Machiavellian judge, and Geraldine Somerville is the sister-in-law with whom he shares a past.
The opener is certainly a juicy story, involving the death of a young woman in childbirth who once worked at the home of the Quirke’s half-brother, Mal, and the murky dealings of the Catholic Church when it came to the babies of unmarried mothers.

Gabriel Byrne as the rueful hero

The early half of this 90-minute mystery is atmospheric, making noirish use of its Dublin setting without hitting the viewer over the head with all the museum pieces (oh, look, there’s an oldie worldy wireless!). That is, until the budget runs low and the action switches to Boston, where a vintage American car driving round the Irish countryside is as close as we get to the US.
Gabriel Byrne, fresh from his own sojourn Stateside in In Treatment, really looks the part of the cussed, rueful hero, treading on toes galore in his own family as he tries to discover if and how his half-brother and father are involved in the death of the young woman.
The three-parter is, of course, based on the novels of awarding-winning author John Banville (this opener is taken from Christine Falls), in the guise of his alter ego Benjamin Black, and Andrew Davies, TV’s go-to guy for high-class projects (Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House etc), has adapted it.

Atmospheric, brooding mystery

The opening story is an atmospheric, multi-layered drama that is full of strong performances. Quirke’s half-brother Mal is a snob who looks down on Quirke, who came from an orphanage. Our hero butts heads with those close to him as well as the tight-faced nuns at the Sisters of Mercy Laundry in an effort to expose a shocking crime. The air of menace from those doing God’s work is scary.

And there is a devastating piece of news for Quirke, which is sure to reverberate through remaining episodes. Still to come in this three-part series are The Silver Swan and Elegy for April.

The one reservation is that Quirke, a big prestigious BBC production, feels predictable and safe. Solid literary adaptations in period costume are a risk-free use of licence-fee payers money that hark back to the likes of Brideshead or I, Claudius.

Quirke certainly has enough quality to find a good audience, but it’s unlikely to generate the buzz of this year’s really strong TV dramas, Broadchurch and The Fall, both of which were written for television. 

Cast: Gabriel Byrne Quirke, Michael Gambon Judge Garret Griffin, Catherine Steadman Claire Stafford, Geraldine Somerville Sarah Griffin, Brian Gleeson Sinclair, Shane Taylor Andy Stafford,
Diarmaid Murtagh Mick McCoy, Sara Stewart Rose, Peter Coonan Barney Boyle, Nick Dunning Malachy Griffin, Stanley Townsend Inspector Hackett, Aisling Franciosi Phoebe Griffin, Jane McGrath Maisie, Denis Conway Fr. Anselm, Frank O’Sullivan Davy

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Restless BBC1 with Hayley Atwell, Michelle Dockery, Rufus Sewell, Charlotte Rampling, Michael Gambon PREVIEW

Hayley Atwell as Eva in William Boyd's Restless on BBC1
Shady character – Hayley Atwell as Eva. Pics BBC

Rating: ★★★★½ 

BBC1: Starts Thursday, 27 December, 9pm 

Story: One day in 1976, Ruth’s mother Sally suddenly tells her she has been living a double life. She is not respectable Sally Gilmartin but in fact Eva Delectorskaya, a spy for the British Secret Service who has been on the run for 30 years.

Most of us would burst out laughing if our mum told us she used to be a spy. But in Ruth Gilmartin’s case, her mother has always been a bit off-kilter.

As Ruth’s young son says, ‘Is Sally your real mummy… She’s so strange.’

Charlotte Rampling and Michelle Dockery star in BBC1's spy thriller Restless
Charlotte Rampling and Michelle Dockery

So when Sally tells her daughter that her real name is Eva Delectorskaya, that she spied for Britain during the war and that someone, 30 years after the war, is now after her, we know we’re in for a highly intriguing drama. And this beautifully made and wonderfully cast two-part film lives up to its terrific premise, being one of the must-see dramas of this Christmas season.

Michelle Dockery and Charlotte Rampling
Ruth, played by Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery, is still incredulous as she learns more of Sally/Eva’s story. When she demands that her mother then speak Russian to her and her mum does so, Ruth realises that she barely knows her. Sally then says Ruth’s father also never knew of her secret past.

‘We all have secrets,’ says Sally, played by Charlotte Rampling. ‘No one knows even half the truth about any one else.’

Rufus Sewell as Lucas Romer in the spy thriller Restless on BBC1
Shadowy Rufus Sewell

The drama flashes back to 1939, when Sally was Eva – and looked a lot like Hayley Atwell, the Captain America actress who is also cropping up a lot on TV, having just been in Sky Atlantic’s Falcon and soon to star in ITV1’s Life of Crime next year. However, her casting here jars a little, as she and Charlotte Rampling in no way resemble each other (particularly with Charlotte’s pale blue eyes clashing with her younger self’s brown eyes).

Rufus Sewell is the mysterious Romer
But once this is forgotten, the plot thickens nicely. We learn how Rufus Sewell as the mysterious Lucas Romer recruits Eva in France after her brother is murdered by fascists. Reluctant at first, Eva turns out to be excellent spy material – she’s bright, resourceful and multi-lingual (as a Russian emigre in France who once had an English nanny).

The old spymaster Lucas Romer played by Michael Gambon in Restless
Michael Gambon as the older Romer

She trains in Scotland and impresses her spy masters. Having initially enjoyed the thrill of it all, she gets a terrifying reality check when her first operation on the German border goes lethally wrong for some British agents and she is chased by Nazi goons.

She ends up with Romer’s team in the USA, planting news stories intended to tip public opinion in favour of Uncle Sam joining the war. This is all suspenseful stuff. Eva does well but feels a bit like a pawn at times, with the added peril of possible betrayal by a British team member when a Russian agent passing them information turns up dead.

Engrossing adaptation of William Boyd’s novel
This strand is juxtaposed with the older Eva appealing to her daughter for help in finding the older Romer, as she believes he is only man who can help her now that her decades-old cover has been blown. ‘Someone’s going to try to kill me very soon,’ she says.

Hayley Atwell as the spy Eva in BBC1's Restless
Eva must seduce an ally

The first of the two 90-minute films ends on a suitably teetering cliff-hanger, with young Eva having been pressed into an assignment similar to Ingrid Bergman’s in Notorious – she has to sleep with a contact close to President Roosevelt – and Ruth having tracked down old Romer, who’s now in the House of Lords and played by Michael Gambon.

Restless is, of course, based on a novel by William Boyd, the man behind the next 007 novel. The alternating modern and wartime intrigues are both engrossing, and the characters grow convincingly into their dangerous lifestyles and keep us wondering how they will get through (and what would we do in their place?).

It’s an accomplished, rich drama. You can afford to miss two hours of Dullton Abbey this Christmas – but don’t let this spy thriller stay undercover.

Cast: Hayley Atwell Eva Delectorskaya, Rufus Sewell younger Lucas Romer, Michael Gambon older Lucas Romer, Michelle Dockery Ruth Gilmartin, Charlotte Rampling Sally Gilmartin

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Luck – Dustin Hoffman PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★★½

Sky Atlantic, starts Saturday, 18 February, 9pm

It’s HBO, written by Deadwood creator David Milch, directed by Michael Mann and stars Dustin Hoffman. This tale of the racetrack and revenge is as close to a dead cert as you can get.

So, is Luck as good as the formbook suggests? While the opener is sprawling and low on action from Hoffman’s story as Ace Bernstein, the mover and shaker just released from prison, it is a great-looking episode full of dodgy characters and rich storylines.

It’s also superbly cast with characterful actors rather than the buffed human mannequins that fill shows such as CSI and Desperate Housewives. Hoffman and Dennis Farina as his driver/partner Gus  have obviously lived a little, while a quartet of desperate gamblers look the part too, led by oxygen-chugging wheelchair-bound Marcus, played by Kevin Dunn.

Nick Nolte and Michael Gambon
There’s a stammering agent nicknamed Porky Pig (Richard Kind) and Nick Nolte’s white-whiskered Walter, who has got hold of a horse he thinks will be great.

It also looks terrific, filmed at beautiful Santa Anita Park in California, all palm trees and hazy mountain backdrop, which Michael Mann fills with terrific action, pitching the viewer into the middle of races so that the jockeys’ butts are right in our face at times.

We meet Ace as he is being picked up by Gus from three years inside, apparently having the rap for some other people. The thread going through episode one is that Gus has been set up with a horse owner’s licence as a front to distance Ace from a prized horse, which is part of some kind of revenge Ace is plotting.

Romance, betrayal and power
But there is much else going on as the starting pistol sets multiple plotlines in motion, involving romance, betrayal and power. The broken-down quartet of gamblers have a huge win, but will there be a fallout? Porky Pig, or Joey Rathburn as the character is really called, seems to suspect that Walter has a secret winner. And jockey Goose is distrusted by Ace’s trainer Escalante for having a big mouth.

And this is before menacing Michael Gambon even turns up as an adversary of Ace’s in later episodes.

Just as The Wire could take a while before viewers got into its groove, Luck is all about half-baked conversations, snippets of chat that bear fruit later on. Audiences will need to stick with it.

People will say Luck is doing for horse racing what Mad Men did for advertising men blah blah, but what is more interesting is that the racing fraternity has given writer-producer David Milch an edgy world to delve into. And it’s one he knows about, having been a horse player and thoroughbred owner.

Another drama as well made as this, in which people’s lives turn on the result of a horse race, has to be worth a punt.

Cast: Dustin Hoffman Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, Dennis Farina Gus, Nick Nolte Walter Smith, John Ortiz Turo Escalante, Kevin Dunn Marcus, Richard Kind Joey Rathburn

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Luck starring Dustin Hoffman

Coming to Sky Atlantic in February is this terrific-looking new HBO series. Luck stars Dustin Hoffman as Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, a gambler just released from a stretch inside who wants revenge against the guys who put him there. It’s directed by Michael Mann and also stars Nick Nolte, Michael Gambon and Dennis Farina (who also appeared in Mann’s 80s series Crime Show). To top it off, it’s written by David Milch, a horse-racing obsessive who also wrote on Hill Street Blues and Deadwood. Sounds a dead cert.

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