Safe House, ITV, Christopher Eccleston


Isolated – Christopher Eccleston in Safe House


He’s a former cop, his remote house offering shelter to a troubled family is ‘safe’ and has security cameras – what could go wrong?

★★★★ ITV, Mondays, 9pm

WITH SO many whodunits, police procedurals and foreign cops on TV these days, it’s a tough ask to come up with something fresh.

Safe House is a thriller that has a good go at doing just that. It has an interesting premise and a magnificent, forbidding setting.

Ex-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston plays Robert, a former cop living in a secluded, ramshackle house in the Lake District with Katy (Marsha Thomason). Robert’s old colleague Mark (Paterson Joseph) points out that the home they plan to turn into a B&B would make a perfect safe house for people who need protection.

Safe House, ITV, Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston, Marsha Thomason and Paterson Joseph

Troubled family go to the safe house

Robert’s career came to a violent end when he was shot. He still hankers after the life and is haunted by the shooting, so he accepts Mark’s proposal, with Katy’s agreement.

The plot is thickened nicely by the family they must take in. Someone has tried to kidnap prison officer David’s son at a fun fair and then killed a bystander who intervened. Who is this menacing figure, who tells David’s son his name is Mike? And why was David targeted?

David (played by Jason Merrells), his wife and their teenage daughter and young son move into Robert’s house. Meanwhile, David attempts to contact his other son, who is meant to be at uni but seems to be living on the road. David’s violent stalker could also be homing in on the lad.

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Babylon, C4, James Nesbitt, Brit Marling PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★½

Channel 4: starts Thursday, 13 November, 10pm

Story: Director of Communications Liz Garvey begins in earnest the job of trying to drag the police into the new media age. Meanwhile, it’s the job of Commissioner Richard Miller, Deputy Commissioner Charles Inglis and Assistant Commissioner Sharon Franklin to keep the force ticking over. 

FOLLOWING its well-received pilot episode back in February, Babylon is back on the beat for a six-part run of law and disorder.

It’s firmly in the realm of the Beeb’s nice little dig at the London Olympics in Twenty Twelve, poking fun at modern marketing speak and corporate arse-covering, rather than being a biting satire about the Metropolitan Police.

Let’s face it, the Met, with its rap sheet of controversies over Stephen Lawrence, the undercover surveillance, Hackgate and the rest, is hardly a laughing matter.

Brit Marling as Liz

So, Babylon – exec-produced by Danny Boyle – has fun with the media and management side of the

force, starting with American media guru Liz Garvey (Brit Marling) and the floundering honchos Commissioner Miller (James Nesbitt, a long way from Missing here), his deputy, Inglis (Paterson Joseph), and assistant Franklin (Nicola Walker).

And here is one of the strengths of the show – the cast are fun to watch, particularly Nicola Walker as the eye-rolling assistant commissioner, dealing with incompetence from above, below and from the private sector.

The opening episode sees her officers called in to help the private security firm running a young offenders institution when violence breaks out. Meanwhile, Paterson Joseph’s deputy commissioner is busy trying to work out whether to tell the world the incident is a disturbance, a severe disturbance or a riot.

Video of Warwick shooting an unarmed assailant 

Writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong delight in showing us this world in which police high-flyers

are more concerned with appearances than getting things done.

Brit Marling is also a great spanner in the works as Liz, trying to get her boss Commissioner Miller to be a little less passive-aggressive in his dealings with the media, while also boring her female colleagues stupid in the wine bar after work by banging on about the Met’s ‘brand’.

The lower ranks also have to deal with her new ideas. Armed response office Warwick’s nerves are shredded when she releases footage of him shooting an unarmed assailant in a show of openness from the Met – the public think we’re all ‘trigger-happy meatheads’.

Er, no comment.

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Bradley Walsh leaves Law and Order: UK — is this the last ever episode?

BRADLEY WALSH as DS Ronnie Brooks, GEORGIA TAYLOR as Kate Barker, DOMINIC ROWAN as SCP Jacob Thorne and BEN BAILEY SMITH as DS Joe Hawkins. Law & Order: UK
Bradley Walsh, Georgia Taylor, Dominic Rowan and Ben Bailey Smith

IT’S THE FINAL episode of series 8 tonight – but it could also be the last ever story from Law & Order: UK.

Called Repeat to Fade, it was due to go out in April but was cancelled following the tragic stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire. In the meantime Bradley Walsh has announced that he is leaving the drama after eight successful seasons to take on other projects in drama and entertainment.

‘There may well come a time when we revisit Law & Order: UK,’ says ITV’s Director of Drama Commissioning Steve November. ‘For the moment we’ll be resting the series whilst we continue to refresh our drama slate.’

Bradley Walsh has said: ‘Ronnie Brooks [his character] is one of my best friends. It’s been an absolute pleasure to inhabit Ronnie’s Mac for as long as I have. Eight series is a wonderful achievement for everyone involved in the production. This has been one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I hope one day to revisit him, but for now I’d like the opportunity to pursue other drama projects which ITV are developing.’

Huge turnover of cast in Law & Order: UK

One feature of the series, a spin-off from Dick Wolf’s long-running US show, is that it has had a spectacular turnover of cast. Jamie Bamber, Paul Nicholls, Harriet Walter, Paterson Joseph, Ben Daniels, Freema Agyeman and Bill Paterson have all departed, leaving Bradley Walsh as the only original actor still in place through all the changing faces.

Losing all these fine performers has not helped the series, and you wonder if Bradley Walsh found it difficult striking a rapport with new partners and cast members for every series.

Ben Bailey Smith only joined the show as Joe Hawkins for series 8, but he has been Ronnie Brooks’s fourth partner. What was clear amid all the upheaval was that L&O: UK would struggle to keep its identity if Bradley Walsh ever joined the exodus.

The taut format of police and legal characters dealing with crimes whose outcomes were often morally and legally ambiguous has been a steady ratings winner for ITV. L&O: UK was also sold around the world.

Is the show now out of date?

But is the police procedural finally losing its lustre for drama commissioners? With series such as Broadchurch and Happy Valley proving ratings and critical hits, it could be that ITV and the BBC are looking for more character-driven stories that reach a conclusion at the end of each series. Steve November does refer to ‘refreshing our drama slate’.

Law & Order: UK. SHARON SMALL as DI Elizabeth Flynn
Sharon Small as DI Flynn

As for tonight’s episode, it’s easy to see why it was pulled in April because it is about a stabbing at Borough Market. Ronnie Brooks is at the centre of the drama, as he is needled by a 15-year-old suspected of the crime. Ronnie says eventually the lad has confessed to him that he did stab the woman. Trouble is, no one else, including Joe, hears this confession.

Sharon Small arrives on the scene as DI Elizabeth Flynn, replacing Ronnie and Joe’s former boss Wes Layton, and her character’s not impressed with Ronnie’s conduct of the case.

So, Ronnie bows out on a very difficult investigation. He’s been the best thing in the series during its five-year run, and will be missed.

Law & Order: UK is on ITV at 9pm.

See also…

Our interview with L&O: UK lead writer Emila di Girolamo
Our review from 2010

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Law & Order: UK series 8, ITV, with Bradley Walsh, Ben Bailey Smith PREVIEW

BEN BAILEY SMITH as DS Joe Hawkins and BRADLEY WALSH as DS Ronnie Brooks. Law and Order: UK, ITV
DS Ronnie Brooks and new partner DS Joe Hawkins (Ben Bailey Smith). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Wednesday, 12 March, 9pm

Ronnie and his new partner Joe are leading an investigation into the death of jeweller Harry Bernstein who is found dead with no hands or teeth.

THE cast of ITV’s hit reworking of Dick Wolf’s hugely successful US drama may chop and change, but Bradley Walsh’s dependable old trooper Ronnie Brooks soldiers on.

Which is great for the series. ITV has exported L&O: UK all round the world – even back to the US – and in eight series over five years, it has become a very successful part of the channel’s drama line-up, nabbing 5.4million viewers during the last series.

It won’t challenge the best shows around – currently led by True Detective on Sky Atlantic – but its taut stories exposing the vagaries of the legal process are far more gripping than Midsomer Murders or Death in Paradise.

Ronnie Brooks is now the face of the show

Bradley Walsh doesn’t do anything spectacular as an actor on the show, but he is likeable as an

 Law and Order: UK, ITV. ROSALYN WRIGHT as Miranda Jones, GEORGIA TAYLOR as Kate Barker and DOMINIC ROWAN as SCP Jacob Thorne
Barker and Thorne with their witness, Rosalyn (right)

idealised decent, by-the-book copper with his neat hair, spectacles and mac, and no one else on it has his sheer watchability. The former footballer turned comic, quizmaster and actor has now earned his acting spurs to such a degree that he was up against David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch at the National TV Awards (Cumberbatch won).

His character’s veteran status – he’s the only original face still on duty – is highlighted in this new series by the arrival of his latest partner, DS Joe Hawkins, played by Ben Bailey Smith (aka rapper and standup Doc Brown).

Hawkins is straight in from child protection and early on there is friction between him and Ronnie when they are interviewing a young lad who may have witnessed a horrible murder in a car park. Joe, the younger man, effectively tells Ronnie that the boy is traumatised and should be questioned more gently, and Ronnie doesn’t initially like being told how to do his job.

Dale Horgan, drug dealer and vicious murderer

The friction between them is just one story strand in yet another strong start to a L&O: UK series, typically appearing at first to be about one crime, but

 Law and Order: UK, ITV. PETER BARRETT as Dale Horgan
Nasty piece of work – Dale Horgan

then turning into an investigation into a different offence, and on this occasion one that is much more harrowing.

It opens in adrenaline-pumping style with a car chase, a crash and a grisly discovery. The driver pursued by police is dead, but in his boot is a corpse with no hands or teeth. This is the body of a gem dealer, and at first this appears to be some kind of business vendetta.

But instead, Brooks soon finds himself up against a really nasty operator, Dale Horgan, a drug dealer and vicious murderer who the detective sergeant has been trying to imprison for years.

Future guest stars

The legal team of Thorne (Dominic Rowan) and Barker (Georgia Taylor) raised the stakes in court, but the episode ends badly for Brooks. All of which sets things up nicely for ensuing weeks.

Helen Baxendale and Diana Quick are among the bewigged characters in this opener, and upcoming guest stars include Hattie Morahan, Joseph Millson, the late Roger Lloyd Pack, Colin Salmon, Roy Hudd, Christopher Fulford, Haydn Gwynne and Harriet Walter.

A fine line-up – but it’s unlikely any of their characters will outshine Ronnie Brooks.

Cast: Bradley Walsh DS Ronnie Brooks, Ben Bailey Smith DS Joe Hawkins, Paterson Joseph DI Wes Leyton, Dominic Rowan Jacob Thorne, Georgia Taylor Kate Barker, Peter Davison Henry Sharpe, Helen Baxendale Eleanor Richmond, Tracy Brabin Lyndsey Bernstein, Diana Quick Judge Hall, Christopher Fulford Mickey Belker, Michael Culkin Justice Lockwood, Dale Horgan Peter BarrettSonny Serkis Danny (Eyeris) 

Babylon, Ch4, with Brit Marling, James Nesbitt, Jill Halfpenny, Paterson Joseph PREVIEW

Martin Trenaman, Jim Howick, Cavan Clerkin, Jill Halfpenny, Adam Deacon, Paterson Joseph, Bertie Carvel, Brit Marling, James Nesbitt, Ella Smith, Jonny Sweet, Nick Blood, Stuart Martin, Andrew Brooke and Daniel Kaluuya, in Ch4's Babylon
London’s thin blue line in Babylon. Pics: Ch4

Rating: ★★★½

Channel 4: starts Sunday, 9 February, 9pm

Story: London’s police force is in need of a public image revamp. And Chief Constable Richard Miller has found just the woman to do it. Liz Garvey is an American visionary from the world of new media parachuted in to revolutionise the force’s PR department…

‘DO NOT TASER my knob-end,’ says a guy at home facing armed fire-arms officers in the opening moments of Babylon, his knob-end a-dangle because he was in the lavvie as they battered his street door in.

In a nutshell, this intro captures the chaos at the heart of this off-kilter comedy-drama. It’s bit of a cross between Twenty Twelve, last year’s very funny Olympic satire, and The Thick of It.

Babylon takes a similarly jaundiced view of the arse-covering and ineptitude behind the scenes of a major public service in the age of social media and instant news management.

Directed by Danny Boyle

James Nesbitt as Richard Miller and Jonny Sweet as Tom Oliver, in Ch4's Babylon
James Nesbitt as Richard Miller; Jonny Sweet as Tom Oliver

The only slight disappointment is that the hilarious beginning isn’t followed through. The police and the public relations worlds take direct hits in some delightful scenes, but as Babylon settles down into a pacy narrative about the Metropolitan police hierarchy fumbling a major incident involving a random gunman on the loose in London, the tone becomes less humorous.

So in order not be disappointed, it’s important to know what kind of show this is. As Jesse Armstrong, who wrote Babylon with Sam Bain, says, ‘It quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to become a sitcom version of the police. I would really say that it’s more of a drama than a comedy drama, even.’

Director Danny Boyle – whose creative credibility is sky high following last year’s Olympics opening ceremony and hits such as Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting – drives the story with verve and thumping beat, as we spin round documentary-style with the cops on the street or the brass at police HQ.

Brit Marling as PR guru Liz Garvey

Brit Marling as Liz Garvey, in Ch4's Babylon
Brit Marling as Liz Garvey

Central to the story is Brit Marling (Arbitrage, Another Earth) as PR guru Liz Garvey, who takes over the Met’s PR operation and believes in ‘transparency’ – not the first quality one associates with the police.

Her first day is consumed by a crisis, as a gunman goes on the rampage. While Liz wants to make statements and be straight with the media, Chief Constable Richard Miller (James Nesbitt) is concerned about saying anything for which he might be ‘crucified’.

Paterson Joseph is excellent as Miller’s deputy, who is superb at not making decisions for which he might be held accountable, and we get to ride alongside the police at the sharp end, who range from the competent Territorial Support officer Davina (Jill Halfpenny) to nutter Robbie (Adam Deacon).

Six-part series to follow

Jill Halfpenny as TSG officer Davina, in Ch4's Babylon
Jill Halfpenny as TSG officer Davina

Nicola Walker is underused, but this is a 90-minute pilot. Presumably, she will feature more when the six-part series, which starts shooting in the spring, follows later.

Babylon a bit scattergun, but it has wonderful performances, is extensively researched and shifts along with the urgency of a Specialist Firearms Unit.

Anyone who blanches at a lot of swear words should stay away. But once the series gets into its groove it has the potential to become a razor-sharp drama that breaks out of the cop procedural/whodunit formula littering the TV schedules.

Cast: Brit Marling Liz Garvey, James Nesbitt Chief Constable Richard Miller James Robinson Mr Lovett, Adam Deacon TSG Officer Robbie, Paterson Joseph Deputy Commissioner Charles Inglis, Daniel Kaluuya Matt Coward, Nick Blood Warwick, Andrew Brooke Officer Neil, Deborah Rosan Reporter, Lee Nicholas Harris Desk Sergeant, Jill Halfpenny TSG Officer Davina

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Law & Order: UK series 7, ITV, with Bradley Walsh, Paul Nicholls PREVIEW

DS Sam Casey (PAUL NICHOLLS) and DS Ronnie Brooks (BRADLEY WALSH) in Law and Order: UK 7
Sam and Ronnie find the cause of the train wreck – an abandoned vehicle. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Sunday, 14 July, 9pm

Story: A commuter train collides with a car that’s been abandoned on the tracks in Streatham, resulting in deaths and a huge number of injuries. A man is charged with murder – but was he after revenge or acting through diminished responsibility?

MANY SHOWS LIKE to end a series with a bang. This latest batch of L&O: UK, however, kicks off with one – a train smash that kills 15 people and injures hundreds.

It’s a spectacular opener, which has the added job of injecting new faces into the legal and cop halves of

PATERSON JOSEPH as DI Wes Leyton in Law and Order: UK series 7
New guvnor Paterson Joseph

the drama. Paterson Joseph steps in as the new detective inspector, Wes Layton, and Georgia Taylor is Kate Barker, who faces Dominic Rowan’s established prosecutor, Jake Thorne, when a man is charged for mass murder following the crash – though there’s a nice twist to her story after she gets in Jake’s face during the trial.

Ronnie tries to calm Sam down

The tragedy of the crash is rammed home when DS Sam Casey (Paul Nicholls) tries but fails to save a boy on the train. Reliable Ronnie (Bradley Walsh) attempts to calm his younger colleague and keep him focused on finding out who left the vehicle on the tracks.

They zone in first on an arrogant, abusive husband who owns the abandoned wheels, then on Finn Tyler, a sad case, separated from his wife and with an alcoholic background and suicidal tendencies.

When the case goes to trial, Sam and Jake are desperate to nail Tyler, who they see as a man who, through his own selfishness, recklessly caused the death of 15 people and devastated hundreds of lives. They want him to serve life sentences for each victim.

New face Kate claims diminished responsibility

Defending Tyler is Kate Barker, who has a bee in her bonnet about the mistreatment of people with

DOMINIC ROWAN as Jacob Thorne, PETER DAVISON as Henry Sharpe and GEORGIA TAYLOR as Kate Barker
Actress Georgia Taylor joins the team

mental health issues and cuts to their services. She argues Tyler  was suffering an abnormality of mind.

In line with the best episodes of Law & Order (this one, called Tracks, is based on the US episode Locomotion), the drama’s loaded with twists and ambiguity, refusing to tell viewers which side to take.

It’s got a great performance from Aidan McArdle as Tyler (unrecognisable here from the smarmy lawyer he played in Garrow’s Law), and there’s a nice scene when Jake basically discards court protocol and just makes a speech slamming the accused. Not realistic, perhaps, but emotional all the same.

What is DS Casey up to?

Where many dramas, such as Broadchurch, benefit from the slowburn, Law & Order‘s template is all about concisely told dramas packed with characters who have murky motivations. The truth is usually hard to discern and the good guys don’t always win. It’s a formula that kept the original US series going for a record-breaking 20 years.

Scriptwriter Emilia di Girolamo, a stalwart of the series and fan of the US version, has written a powerful one here. She tells me series seven features her last two scripts for Law & Order: UK, which is a shame, while she focuses on other projects.

The good news is that it’s a two-part opener, and she’s written the next instalment, which has some pretty big questions to answer about DS Sam Casey after his apparently dodgy behaviour at the end of part one.

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DS Ronnie Brooks (BRADLEY WALSH), DS Sam Casey (PAUL NICHOLLS), DI Wes Leyton (PATERSON JOSEPH), Jacob Thorne (DOMINIC ROWAN), Kate Barker (GEORGIA TAYOR) and Henry Sharpe (PETER DAVISON). Law and Order: UK, ITV
The law and order sides of the story

Hustle series 8 PREVIEW

Smooth operators – the Hustle crew. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★

BBC1 from Friday, 6 January, 9pm

Story: Mickey and the gang of con artists target a gold dealer who rips off elderly customers.

Only six more elaborate scams for Mickey Bricks and his flimflam operators before Hustle‘s loyal fans feel like the ones who’ve lost something they treasure when they weren’t looking. After seven years, writer Tony Jordan is calling time on the show.

There are treats in store in this last series, in particular the return of original cast member Jaime Murray as Stacie Monroe in the final episode for what was the actress calls ‘the con to end all cons’. Of the finale, Adrian Lester (Mickey) adds, ‘The opening 30 seconds of the last episode… it’s ace. You won’t forget it!’

Dodgy geezer – Paterson Joseph with Kelly Adams

Peterson Joseph as the mark
Not that episode one is too shabby. Paterson Joseph turns up as the target, Dexter Gold – real name, Ash reveals, is Dexter Pratt. This 24-carat villain gets by fencing gold stolen by armed gangs and by fiddling pensioners out of their precious golden mementoes.

So the team, eager as ever to bring down the corrupt and greedy, masquerade as a renegade army unit seeking to offload a hooky consignment of looted Libyan gold. A nice sub plot sees the gang barred from Eddie’s drinking establishment after one of them defaces his wall photo of hero Ian Rush. Cue cameo from the former Liverpool star himself…

It’s an episode that’s as slick and frothy as ever, the hallmark of Hustle being the way it resurrected that old spirit of entertaining and cool rogues not seen since Sixties classics such as Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Marc Warren and Trafalgar Square
It’s heyday was undoubtedly the Marc Warren era, when he played Danny Blue and there were classic episodes such as Danny losing to Stacie at strip poker in series one, and the second episode of series three when Danny and Mickey had to run naked through Trafalgar Square.

Even Adrian Lester cites the Trafalgar Square episode as a highlight. ‘As Marc Warren said, how many people can say I’ve run through Trafalgar Square naked!’ he says. ‘And I did it eight times! It’s right up there with playing Hamlet. It could only work in a show like this because it was tongue in cheek, entertaining and silly but also poignant.’

Tony Jordan has worked out some fun plots. The cons have been great, and the pros terrific – so good  to see Robert Vaughn again in such charming form. Enjoy it while you can, before Adrian Lester moves onto Othello at the National and Robert Vaughn turns up in Corrie. Talk about masters of disguise…

Cast: Adrian Lester Michael ‘Mickey Bricks’ Stone, Robert Glenister Ash ‘Three Socks’ Morgan, Robert Vaughn Albert Stroller, Kelly Adams Emma, Matt di Angelo Sea, Rob Jarvis Eddie, Paterson Joseph Dexter Gold

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