Undeniable, ITV, with Claire Goose, Peter Firth PREVIEW

Emma (Christine Bottomley), Rawlins, her dad (Peter Firth), Jane (Claire Goose) and Alison (Pippa Haywood). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: starts Monday, 7 April, 9pm

Story: As a child Jane Philips witnessed a savage and brutal attack by a stranger that left her mother dead. Twenty-three years later she believes she sees her mum’s killer again…

ON THE face of it, this has a terrific premise. A seven-year-old girl is at a lonely lakeside with her mother one day, when a man appears and murders the mum.

Twenty-years later, the girl, Jane, now 30, sees a man she believes is the killer. Her life and state of mind are thrown into turmoil as she sets about trying to prove his guilt.

But hold on. Let’s rewind that. Just how likely is it that a person could remember a face she saw for a fleeting moment nearly a quarter of a century before as a child? Particularly as the man would have aged significantly.

Claire Goose as the victim pursuing her mum’s murderer

CLAIRE GOOSE as Jane and FELIX SCOTT as Rob. Undeniable ITV
Marriage under stress – Rob (Felix Scott) and Jane

Claire Goose plays Jane and puts herself convincingly through the emotional wringer as a young married mum, expecting again, whose life goes on tilt when she sees the man, respected cancer doctor Andrew Rawlins (Peter Firth), at a hospital. She tells her husband Rob (Felix Scott), with convincing logic, that she is 99 percent sure Rawlins is the one – but even if she was only 50 percent certain she would still want to go to the police.

The problem is that when strong evidence suggests Rawlins is not the killer, Jane ploughs on, relying on her one sighting, even to the point of violence.

I’m sure it is possible that on rare occasions someone could pinpoint a killer they saw briefly as a child, but it just seems very unlikely, and that hangs over this two-part drama. It’s other big drawback is that a fairly complex but fascinating tale is crammed into two episodes.

Undeniable would have benefitted from being longer

ITV haven’t done writer Chris Lang any favours by squeezing it all into less than two hours (with ads taking up the rest). Given more space and development, it would have been intriguing to know more about Rawlins and about victims in Jane’s situation.

PIPPA HAYWOOD as Alison Hall. Undeniable ITV
Investigator – DI Alison Hall

It is a beautifully filmed production, and the acting is really fine, with Pippa Haywood also appearing as the detective who helps Jane to piece together some of Rawlins’s past. But again, her character has an interesting backstory that is glossed over.

A decent enough thriller, but it could have been a lot better.

Cast: Claire Goose Jane Phillips, Peter Firth Andrew Rawlins, Felix Scott Rob Phillips, Pippa Haywood DI Alison Hall, Christine Bottomley Emma Rawlins, Robert Pugh Pete

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Mayday, BBC1, starring Sophie Okonedo, Peter Firth, Aidan Gillen PREVIEW

If you go down to the woods… the May Queen’s disappearance exposes a community’s secrets. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC1: Sunday, 3 March, 9pm

Story: When a young teenage May Queen fails to appear at the annual pagan parade, her small community is thrown into turmoil and recriminations.

In The Wicker Man, that great pagan-horror classic from 1973, a missing girl is the trigger for the story. BBC1’s Mayday conjures a similar spirit of something ancient and sinister in the countryside, and it too begins with the disappearance of a girl, a 14-year-old May Queen.

The Mayday festival in a small community on the Sussex Downs is disrupted when the parade arrives on the green, but young Hattie is not at the procession’s head. Hours later the teen is still missing and the locals organise a night-time search of the woods.

Mayday, BBC1, Aidan Gillen
Everett is not concerned when Hattie goes missing

Sophie Okonedo and Aidan Gillen
Everyone either knew Hattie or knew of her, and her mystery unsettles the whole town. A wife suspects her husband, a son wonders if his father was involved, a man thinks his loner brother is responsible.

Aidan Gillen plays a violent father who forbids his curious son from looking to see what he keeps in a bin bag, Peter Firth is the property developer whose new scheme Hattie had recently been protesting against. Meanwhile, Sophie Okonedo is the mum and former police officer whose cop husband is acting oddly.

Mayday, BBC1, Tom Fisher
Was Seth behind Hattie’s disappearance?

No sooner is Hattie gone than the whole place is revealed to be a seething mass of unhappy marriages, un-neighbourly hostility and family secrets. This is all overdone a bit, but the opening episode does create an intriguing atmosphere of unease.

The Magic Circle
Steve, played by Sam Spruell, is leading the nocturnal search through the forest, when one local reveals that when he was a boy he thought there was a presence following him when he went there. Hattie’s twin sister, Caitlin, tells young Linus (her secret admirer) that she thinks Hattie’s dead because, ‘I felt her leave me.’

The search party finds the forest’s ‘Magic Circle’, a place where some gathering or ritual happens – or is it just teenagers messing around? – and the May Queen’s crown is found there. This jolts Steve into fearing that his brother, Seth, who is dressed as the Green Man for Mayday and lives in the woods, may have done something to Hattie.

Mayday, BBC1, with Leila Mimmack as Caitlin
Hattie’s twin sister, Caitlin

The writers are Caroline Ip and Ben Court, the pens behind the resurrectionist and haunting Whitechapel on ITV, so it is no surprise that Mayday is no straight police procedural. It will be interesting to see how much weirder events become.

Two community thrillers
The BBC and ITV have contrived to schedule two new prestigious drama series about crimes impacting on small communities in the same week – Mayday and Broadchurch. Both were pencilled in for Monday, 4 March, but happily Mayday was finally scheduled for Sunday.

Mayday, BBC1, with Peter Firth
Malcolm has secrets in the woods

Both are good, though on the basis of the opening episodes, Broadchurch is more layered and hard-hitting emotionally. But Mayday could still come up trumps if it maintains its distinctive and unsettling journey deep into the woods. Quirky and dark it certainly is.

Cast: Sophie Okonedo Fiona Hill, Peter McDonald Alan Hill, Lesley Manville Gail Spicer, Peter Firth Malcolm Spicer, Sam Spruell Steve Docker, Tom Fisher Seth Docker, Max Fowler Linus Newcombe, Aidan Gillen Everett Newcombe, Leila Mimmack Caitlin/Hattie Sutton, David Flynn James Spicer, Hannah Jean-Baptiste Charlotte, Richard Hawley Richard Sutton, Caroline Berry Jo Sutton

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Spooks final series

Dimitri, Ruth, Harry, Calum and Erin. Pics: BBC/Kudos

Rating ★★★½

BBC1, Sundays, 9pm

Story: Harry’s dismissal is delayed and he is quickly sent back to the Grid by the Home Secretary. Old secrets have resurfaced after Max Witt, a retired spy and colleague from Harry’s days in Berlin during the Cold War, is murdered. As Russia and Britain move towards repairing their relations, with Ilya Gavrik, Harry’s former KGB counterpart, and his wife, Elena, flying to London, Harry faces renewed threats and the exposure of his own past.

MI5’s spooks met their match on Sunday night. The chambermaids and toffs of ITV1’s Downton Abbey succeeded where the spies of Russia and China failed in giving Sir Harry Pearce’s team a drubbing, hitting 9.3 million viewers to Spooks‘ 4.6 million.

So the Beeb’s intention of giving the 10th and final series of Spooks a rousing send-off fell flat. Going head-to-head with Julian Fellowe’s much adored period drama on a Sunday night when Downton also won four Emmys in the US was rash of the BBC.

Which is a shame because Spooks kicked off with a pretty decent episode. Sir Harry Pearce finished the last series with the words ‘start preparing for life after MI5’ ringing in his ears. But the inquisition into his conduct was abruptly stalled by the Home Secretary, who needed Harry back at the Grid. As Ruth says, ‘Someone jammed the guillotine.’

Lara Pulver as Erin Watts
Gorgeous Lucas North having pitched himself out of the show at the end of the last series, there are now new faces on the team. Lara Pulver plays Erin Watts, a laughably young and glam acting head of Section D in Harry’s absence (plausibility went of the series years ago, so this probably doesn’t matter). Further lowering the section’s aggregate age is new IT supremo Calum, who thinks Harry is well past his sell-by date.

There is the usual obsession with gadgetry, with iPads now de rigueur among the thrusting young agents, and reliance on new gizmos such as a scanner that identifies someone from the way he walks.

Love stalled – Elena and Harry

The backdrop to the episode was Russia and Britain attempting to repair their damaged relations, with Harry having to reluctantly chum up with former enemies. These come in the form of Ilya Gavrik, Harry’s former KGB counterpart, who is in London with his wife, Elena, and son Sasha.

Stalking assassin
Despite all the tech-jargon and serious faces, there are still nice flashes of humour. Erin is the latest to barge into Harry’s office without knocking (the series’ oldest running joke), and when someone asks Harry if he enjoyed his gardening leave, he replied, ‘For one particularly dark moment I considered gardening.’

But there was a generous helping of the Spooks speciality – suspense. The scenes when an unknown assassin was stalking a diplomatic reception were as expertly executed as loyal Spooks watchers would expect.

Happy ending for Harry and Ruth?
This final series is going to be all about Harry, his naughty past with Gavrik’s wife, Elena, and his relationship with Ruth. Theirs is a love that dare not speak its name, the stoical couple at times looking as though they’re in their own version of Brief Encounter.

Will it be a happy send-off for the long-suffering pair who are all too obsessed with public duty? That would surely cheer the show’s devoted fans and help them to forget that Spooks has been totally eclipsed in the ratings by Downton Abbey.

Cast: Lara Pulver Erin Watts, Geoffrey Streatfeild Calum Reed, Peter Firth Harry Pearce, Nicola Walker Ruth Evershed, Giles Havergal Max Witt, Jonathan Hyde Ilya Gavrik, Simon Russell Beale Home Secretary Towers, Alice Krige Elena Gavrik, Tom Weston-Jones Sasha Gavrik

10 reasons why we’ll miss Spooks

Spooks (MI-5) – 10 reasons why we will miss it

Harry and Ruth. Pics: BBC

The Spooks of MI-5 may have survived assassination by the Taliban, Chinese agents and evil Russians, but the conniving mandarins of the BBC are much more ruthless and resourceful.

They’ve announced that series 10, starting next month, will be the last. Ben Stephenson, BBC drama controller, said (possibly while stroking a white cat), that Spooks had been a hit groundbreaking series that had helped to redefine BBC drama.

‘I would like to thank all those involved in the making of the show over the last decade both on and off screen,’ Stephenson said, ‘and hope fans will tune in this September to see what promises to be a fittingly high-octane, thrilling finale.’

This will focus on  Section D chief Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) confronting a secret from his past that could wreck him and the woman he loves, Ruth (Nicola Walker). New faces will include Lara Pulver (True Blood, Robin Hood) as new team leader Erin Watts following Lucas North’s devastating betrayal in series nine, along with Alice Krige (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Deadwood) and Jonathan Hyde (Titanic, Jumanji).

Before the final round of explosions and betrayals, here are 10 reasons why SpooksMI-5 to our American and French allies – will be sorely missed…

Lucas and Harry in series nine

1 Cracking stories
Lucas’s betrayal at the end of the last series, or the discovery that Connie was the traitor in series seven had enough gasp! factor to win the series audiences of more than six million in the UK and make it a worldwide hit in 50 countries.

2 Terrific cast
Spooks has raised the profile of stars including Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Rupert Penry-Jones, Richard Armitage and Hermione Norris, with guests over the years including Hugh Laurie, Lindsay Duncan, Iain Glen, Sophie Okonedo, Tim Piggott-Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch.

3 Phwoar factor
Looking glam while risking life and limb have been the likes of Keeley Hawes, Richard North, Hermione Norris, Sophia Myles, Rupert Penry-Jones and – for the more sophisticated lady – stoically lovelorn Peter Firth.

4 Absolute shockers
Whether it was Rupert Penry-Jones being blown to smithereens in the opening episode of series seven, admin officer Helen Flynn (Lisa Faulkner) killed by having her face immersed in boiling oil, or data nerd Colin (Rory MacGregor) being strung from a tree by traitorous MI6 agents, Spooks has always known how to make viewers sit up on their sofas.

5 Causing a stink
Helen Flynn’s death caused a wave of complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, but the series sparked a kerfuffle at a higher level when the Chinese government reportedly lost its rag over the way its agents were portrayed as kidnappers, hackers and being ready to blow up London. Apparently, even Israeli intelligence phoned the Beeb to complain about how their operatives were depicted. Touchy.

6 Spookily ahead of the game
Following the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, Spooks had an uncannily prescient episode ready to air that featured a terrorist bombing central London, including the real-life target of Kings Cross. The BBC considered pulling the show, but eventually settled for displaying a disclaimer warning of distressing content.

7 London
While to many Londoners the capital is a daily grind on the packed Underground or a scary place where people don’t pay for their shopping while leaving department stores through smashed front windows, in Spooks it’s a breathlessly glamorous setting with the camera whizzing across Millennium Bridge, round Canary Wharf and over the Royal Opera House (though some of the off-kilter camera angles can give you headache).

8 BBC Licence fee splashed all over the screen
Spectacular chase scenes, punch-ups, aerial shots and huge explosions – like the one that sent Ros Myers into the next world – made Spooks a tad more expensive than an episode of, say, Saturday Kitchen.

9 A pace that hurtles over gargantuan plot holes
We’ve had Russian submarines launching implausible cyber attacks to send the London financial markets into a tailspin (who needs a cyber attack?), we’ve had two MI5 agents wreaking havoc in the dark on a squad of Mossad hit men equipped with night-vision gear, Lucas going through a complete personality flip-flop to emerge as a traitor, and as for Tariq running a ‘probability algorithm’ and then some facial recognition software through hundreds of London CCTV cameras to pinpoint a foreign infiltrator in seconds… who’d have guessed they can do that?

10 The Trouble with Harry
Like Ken Barlow, Harry’s been there from the beginning, surviving death threats, kidnap, multiple betrayals and disappointment in love. At the end of series nine he was told his actions as head of counter-terrorism were being investigated and he should prepare for life after MI5. It is fitting that the character who has been the backbone of 10 action-packed series should be the focus of the final season. Given the show’s track record of having characters who are secretly traitors, it seems likely  Harry could emerge as Vladimir Putin in a rubber mask. Or that he’ll be killed. Or that he’ll walk off into the sunset with Ruth. Almost anything’s possible in Spooks.

Spooks series nine finale PREVIEW

Is it the end for Lucas and Maya? (Pics: BBC)

Monday, 8 November, 9pm, BBC1

Rating ★★★½

That hall of funfair mirrors that is Spooks has been distorting the identity of Lucas North throughout series nine, and in the tumultuous last episode the twists keep coming right up to the end credits.

Spooks has long specialised in shock set-piece episodes for its major characters, and the fate of Richard Armitage’s troubled agent has certainly kept his large fanbase buzzing on internet forums.

Is there any way out for MI5’s most dashing and skilled spy? Is he a traitor? Or is he playing a dangerous but brilliant double game with the Chinese that will see him welcomed back to Section D with congratulations from his boss, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth)?

Danger for Ruth

This climax lives up to the high standards set in previous series, being an assured mix of suspense and emotional tension. There’s Lucas’s love for Maya (Laila Rouass) at stake. Then Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) is placed in appalling danger, which of course frays the devoted Harry’s sense of duty.

A new element in the mix is Harry’s enlistment of ex-internal affairs specialist Alec White, played with great insolence by Vincent Regan. Arrogant, aggressive, lazy and alcoholic, the grizzled White is still the man Harry needs to ferret out his fugitive agent, and he is a spiky recruit, suddenly making the rest of the team (Lucas aside) look like a bunch of goody two shoes.

When Harry offers him three months’ salary for his services, White demands six, to which Harry replies, ‘No, three should do it. I’ve seen your bank balance.’ Checkmate.

Cliffhanger for Section D
Like its American near relation, 24, Spooks fires so many twists and identity switches that we rarely have the time or inclination to examine the plot holes or character somersaults.

But while it has survived  changes in cast and several controversies to win a large and devoted following since launching in 2002, it will be interesting to see how Spooks develops in series 10, if it gets the green light (and things are left delicately balanced here for more adventures).

How many more hostage situations, plots to blow up London and betrayals before Spooks suffers its own identity crisis?

In the meantime, hang onto your armchairs. In this finale there’s a surprise round every bend.

• crime zapper •

  Law & Order: UK signed off with another strong, twisting episode on Thursday. How often do you see a drama in which the heroes cock it up and an innocent victim is murdered as a result? A nurse insisted she was the victim of a mystery stalker who threw her down a flight of stairs. Brooks and Devlin thought she was making it up to get the police to take her fears more seriously. When she was then quickly murdered, and Brooks and Devlin ended up giving conflicting evidence in court, it gave viewers a powerful story of shifting moral standpoints. It’s been a cracking series, and happily ITV has already commissioned another 13 episodes. Of course, it is a tried and tested formula and ITV are just reheating stories from the US original series, but the cast – Bradley Walsh, Jamie Bamber, Harriet Walter, Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman – are all good, and the stories are absorbing and pacy.

Just finished Stuart Neville‘s The Twelve – for once, the hype was bang on. ITV or the Beeb should drop their obsession with twee period favourites like Poirot and George Gently. This pulverising novel about a former Belfast hitman seeking to placate and avenge the ghosts of the 12 people he murdered is a genre-busting powerhouse of a book, but with moments of tenderness. If made well, The Twelve would be a headbutt in the face of UK television’s cosy crime scene.

What the hell is Lucas (right) up to in Spooks? It goes without saying that he isn’t the man we thought he was – people rarely are in Section D. But series nine is heading for some showdown between Lucas and his boss, Harry. And knowing what a high casualty rate the show has (Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, David Oyelowo, Rupert Penry-Jones and Hermione Norris, among others, all having been fired or murdered), will it be the end of the line for Richard Armitage (Lucas) or Peter Firth (Harry)? ‘Shocking consequences’ are being promised by the Beeb…

Spooks new series, BBC1 PREVIEW

Lucas North and Harry Pearce (all pics BBC/Kudos)

Rating: ★★★½

BBC1, Mondays at 9pm from 20 Sept

Section chief Harry Pearce is stressed. He’s even thinking of getting married, or resigning, anything to escape the pressure of saving London from foreign nutters every week.

Who can blame him? The highest level of stress most of us have at work is looking at Facebook without being caught. As series nine of Spooks opens, Harry is still surrounded by traitors and megalomaniacs, still has to calculate how many innocent Brits he can sacrifice to stop them.

He asks Ruth, his intelligence analyst, if she ever feels she can’t go on.

‘Can’t go on, must go on,’ she says.

Dimitri (Max Brown)

New shocks for the Spooks
Too right. The last time we saw Section D, Ros was racing to save the Home Secretary when she was caught in an explosion. The new series opens with several shocks resulting from that climax, and Harry is immediately faced with personally taking revenge on someone he thought was a trusted friend.

Iain Glen’s first appearance

Actor Peter Firth has perfected a constipated look of alarm-cum-panic. ‘This is my I-want-some-good-news face,’ he says as the latest crisis looms, which looks exactly like his ‘My-buttocks-are-tightly-clenched face’, and his ‘Will-you-marry-me face’.

His mood isn’t helped by Lucas’s attempt to terminate a Somalian Al Qaeda boss, Abib, going disastrously wrong. Pirates hijack the container ship carrying Abib and Lucas, who is pretending to be a crew member. But are they pirates? And what is in the sealed container? And who is that frightened Russian prostitute?

The Russian prostitute

Sophia Myles and Max Brown
This is a cracking opener to the series, with plenty of tension and action. But there is also some fleshing out of character here, and between the shoot-outs and shouting we learn more about the principals and meet intriguing new faces.

Of which there are four – Sophia Myles is Beth Bailey, some kind of privately contracted spook who wants to join M15.

Home Secretary (Simon Russell Beale)

Typically, Lucas doesn’t think Beth is all she appears to be – which is rich coming from him, as we discover when Iain Glen lurches into the story as an ominous figure from Lucas’s past, confirming series nine’s mission to delve into hidden recesses of the characters.

Section D’s hunky he-men
Simon Russell Beale is the new Home Secretary. And Max Brown is ex-Special Boat Service operative Dimitri, who will give Richard Armitage as Lucas a run for his money in the show’s hunky he-man stakes.

Lucas is taken prisoner

It all amounts to a fine re-boot for one of the Beeb’s most avidly followed series (just check out the online Spooks communities).

As the chilled-out Home Secretary says to a rather ragged Harry Pearce at the end of this opener, ‘Until the next catastrophe.’ Which will be along every Monday for the next eight weeks.

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