Stonemouth, BBC2, Peter Mullan, Christian Cooke, Charlotte Spencer

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 21/04/2015 - Programme Name: Stonemouth - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: BBC Two Launch 2015 Don (PETER MULLAN), Ellie (CHARLOTTE SPENCER), Stewart (CHRISTIAN COOKE) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Mark Mainz

Three’s a crowd – Peter Mullan, Charlotte Spencer and Christian Cooke 

Beautifully filmed and acted romantic mystery based on Iain Banks’s best-selling novel.

★★★ BBC2, starts Thursday, 11 June, 9pm

THIS BBC SCOTLAND production is a cheering reminder of Iain Banks’s fine talent for conjuring dark tales with edge and wit. As if that wasn’t enough, it also has a great setting and cast.

Stewart Gilmour returns to sea town Stonemouth following the apparent suicide of his once best mate, Callum. He was run out of town two years previously by the gangster father of his ex-fiancé, the beautiful Ellie Murston, who is also Callum’s sister.

Programme Name: Stonemouth - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Stewart (CHRISTIAN COOKE) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Mark Mainz

Suspicious – Stewart

Stewart obtains the permission of Don Murston – an extremely gruff and menacing Peter Mullan – to return for Callum’s funeral, after which he has to skedaddle. It’s obvious that all sorts of skeletons are about to charge out of cupboards during Stewart’s return.

Charlotte Spencer and Christian Cooke

Programme Name: Stonemouth - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Ellie (CHARLOTTE SPENCER) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Mark Mainz

The love of Stewart’s life – Ellie

Ellie is the love of his life and Stewart, who received a message from Callum the day before he died saying he was in trouble, has his doubts that his friend’s fatal plunge was self-inflicted. It’s not long before he also stumbles on an explosive secret concerning Don – or more specifically his wife. And with every thug in town – including one played by Brian Gleeson – eyeing him with suspicion, it’s clear Stewart’s visit is going to be memorable.

The story’s background unfolds in flashbacks so that we see Stewart and his circle as children and teens, bonding and falling in love. Charlotte Spencer, so good last year in C4’s Glue, is alluring as Ellie, and well complemented by another English actor convincingly playing a Scot, Christian Cooke as Stewart.

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Top of the Lake, BBC2, Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, Holly Hunter PREVIEW

(L-R) Johnno [TOM WRIGHT], Robin Griffin [ELISABETH MOSS]. BBC2 Top of the Lake
No place like home – Johnno (Tom Wright) and Robin (Elisabeth Moss) Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC2: starts Saturday, 13 July, 9.10pm

Story: In a remote community on New Zealand’s South Island, a 12-year-old girl walks into the waters of an alpine lake. Saved before she freezes or drowns, she is found to be pregnant. The police are called and detective Robin Griffin liaises with the girl. The girl then disappears.

HERE’S A DRAMA that will dent New Zealand’s image as a pleasant society in the middle of paradise. Instead, the writer and director, Oscar-winner Jane Campion, shows us a brooding, menacing side of her homeland.

Tui Mitcham [JACQUELINE JOE] Top of the Lake BBC2
Why does Tui go into the lake?

This is a major, big-budget original drama for BBC2, and there’s a lot of international award-winning talent involved – Campion’s fellow Oscar recipient Holly Hunter is in the cast, along with Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss. There’s more Oscars among the exec-producers (Emile Sherman, Iain Canning), and there’s rising Aussie co-director Garth Davis.

So, that’s the fanfare out of the way. Next question – is it any good? Well, after a somewhat bewildering start, it is certainly more interesting and ambitious by far than many procedurals and dramas filling the schedules.

Elisabeth Moss leaves Mad Men far behind

The central mystery about a 12-year-old girl, Tui, who is spotted wading out into a freezing lake, is certainly intriguing. Elisabeth Moss as Robin Griffin, the troubled detective who returns to the home she has escaped and is assigned to look after Tui, convinces as a tough woman who is far more confrontational than Peggy in Mad Men.

Then there are the men coming back into Robin’s life – ex-boyfriend Johnno, and Al Parker, fellow detective and Robin’s mentor.

G.J. [HOLLY HUNTER] Top of the Lake BBC2
Mystery woman GJ (Holly Hunter)

And Peter Mullan is a bull of a baddie, the local drug lord, Tui’s father and clan leader Matt Mitcham.

Holly Hunter as the mysterious GJ

The problem with the opening episode, the first of six, is that it throws a heck of a lot of story at the viewer. In addition to the characters mentioned, there is also the tribe of damaged women, getting away from it all to find some solace together by settling on land that Mitcham thinks should be his.

They are headed by GJ (Holly Hunter), whose mysterious air of detachment is incendiary to the male-dominated locals.

There is so much going on in the opener that each character could have a whole episode devoted to them. Tui is found to be pregnant. Who abused her? Was it Mitcham? Or one of his adult sons? Are the police corrupt? What is the secret of Robin’s past? Can GJ really see into people’s futures? Oh, and then there’s a murder…

A connection between Robin and Tui

Tui Mitcham [JACQUELINE JOE] Top of the Lake BBC2
Tui becomes the focus of the community

If Top of the Lake breathes a little after episode one to let us start to absorb a little of what’s going on, it should be a powerful, multi-layered story. The setting is an eye-opening vision of a landscape that is epic and beautiful, but primitive.

And the connection between Robin and Tui is clearly going to be key to the series’ story arc. Moss is a long way from Madison Avenue here, but she is boldly different as a woman discovering some harsh truths about the community in which she has a traumatic past.

Jane Campion has joined the exodus of storytellers who are moving from movies to TV,  which these days is the place to make textured dramas with three-dimensional characters. All of which should make Top of the Lake the drama event of the summer.

Luke Mitcham [KIP CHAPMAN], Matt Mitcham [PETER MULLAN] Top of the Lake BBC2
Troubled waters – Luke and dad Matt

Cast: Elisabeth Moss Robin Griffin, David Wenham Al Parker, Peter Mullan Matt Mitcham, Thomas M Wright Johnno, Holly Hunter GJ, Jay Ryan Mark Mitcham, Kip Chapman Luke Mitcham, Jacqueline Joe Tui, Robyn Malcolm Anita, Genevieve Lemon Bunny, Georgi Kay Melissa, Skye Wansey Grishina, Anne-Marie Alison Bruce, Sarah Valentine Prue, Robyn Nevin Jude, Calvin Tuteao Turangi, Lucy Lawless Caroline Platt, Darren Gilshenan Bob Platt, Luke Buchanan Jamie, Mirrah Foulkes Simone, Jacek Koman Wolfgang Zanic, Madeleine Sami Xena

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Top of the Lake starring Elisabeth Moss – on BBC2 this summer

Mystery surrounds 12-year-old Tui. Pics: BBC

Few new dramas will be more keenly awaited this years than this new mystery starring Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss as a detective affected personally by the disappearance of a pregnant pre-teen girl in a remote southern New Zealand community.

Elisabeth Moss as Robin

Directing it will be Oscar-winning Jane Campion (The Piano) and rising Aussie director Garth Davis. Also in the cast are Holly Hunter (best actress Oscar-winner, also for The Piano), Peter Mullan (War Horse, The Fear), David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) and Lucy Lawless (Xena, Spartacus).

This haunting story focuses on the remote mountains of New Zealand, where 12-year-old Tui is seen standing in a freezing lake. It is discovered that she is pregnant but won’t reveal who the father is.

For Elisabeth Moss’s detective, Robin Griffin, the case has echoes of her own past. What begins as a statutory rape investigation then turns into possible kidnapping or murder when Tui vanishes.

Word is that this multi-stranded six-part drama is heavily atmospheric, bringing to mind past classics such as Twin Peaks or The Killing in its distinctive feel.

At present, Top of the Lake is pencilled in for broadcast this summer.

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The Fear starring Peter Mullan Ch4 PREVIEW

Red alert for Richie Beckett (Peter Mullan) in The Fear. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★★ 

Channel 4: starts Monday, 3 December, 10pm  

Eyeball to eyeball with the Albanians


Story: Richie Beckett, former gang boss turned respected Brighton businessman, pledges money to help rebuild a pier. But Richie’s mind is in turmoil and the empire he runs with his sons is endangered by a vicious Albanian gang.

Tony Soprano famously suffered panic attacks and had to see a shrink. In C4’s new hard-knuckle crime drama The Fear we have another gang boss whose mind is under assault.

But Richie Beckett’s turmoil is more serious and urgent, because just when his Brighton-based empire is under siege from a gang of Albanian psychos, Richie is starting to lose his identity.

He is suffering from some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s. This would be alarming enough in the new role he has taken on as respectable local businessman, but when his family and interests are suddenly under threat from the vicious newcomers in town, this is calamitous.

Richie with sons Cal and Matty

Grisly killing
Peter Mullan is excellent as the fearsome family head, veering alarmingly between menace and bewilderment. Harry Lloyd and Paul Nicholls are his sons, Matty and Cal, who, along with their mother (Anastasia Hille) think their father is on the booze again.

Cal, the eldest and a creep who revels in his dad’s notoriety, wants to broker some deal with the family of Vajkal, the Albanian guvnor. But the Albanians implicate him in the grisly murder of a prostitute he has used, keeping her beheaded corpse as evidence to incriminate Cal if the Becketts don’t fall into line.

Richie is therefore dragged into a meeting at the Albanians’ farmhouse retreat. Irritable, sleepless, forgetful – Richie can’t even remember battering a young man on the front in broad daylight – his presence at the farmhouse is as sensible as juggling gelignite.

Cal (Paul Nicholls)

Peter Mullan is terrific as a gangster in decline
The Fear is being shown over four consecutive nights and is a bruising but riveting portrait of a criminal in decline, haunted by his past and out of touch with the present. And it’s a story with emotion, as in the scene where Richie enters his wife’s bedroom and asks if he can lie with her. Amid his confusion and increasing aggression, he seeks some feeling of closeness with his estranged wife.

Brighton is evocatively photographed as a lurid but at the same time genteel backdrop, regency buildings juxtaposed with drag entertainers and night-time revellers.

Writer Richard Cottan has created a rich thriller, though having Richie’s wife buying a couple of paintings called Confusion 1 & 2 was not the most ingenious bit of symbolism.

Still, the opener sets up a drama full of tension and dread, setting in motion what can only be a fearsome, tragic train of events.

Cast: Peter Mullan Richie Bennett, Anastasia Hille Jo Beckett, Harry Lloyd Matty Beckett, Paul Nicholls Cal Beckett, Demosthenes Chrysan Vajkal, Dragos Bucur Marin, Shaban Arifi Davit, Julia Ragnarsson Zana, Danny Sapani Wes

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