13 Steps Down on ITV1 starring Luke Treadaway PREVIEW

Luke Treadaway, Anna Calder-Marshall, Gemma Jones, Geraldine James
Luke Treadaway, Anna Calder-Marshall, Gemma Jones, Geraldine James. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★ 

ITV1: Monday, 13 August, 9pm

Story: Mix is a trainer-wearing, fitness-machine repairman who has sex with bored rich women and fantasises about the serial killer John Reginald Christie. He is also stalking a catwalk model, Nerissa Nash. His obsessive fantasy world eventually opens up his potential for real-life murder.

Great to see Ruth Rendell’s work back on prime time. The author behind the Wexford stories has a far more interesting and unsettling line in psychological whydunits, and 13 Steps Down is one of these.

It is a macabre journey in the company of Mix Cellini, young repairman and bit of a charmer, who at the same time is a loathsome creep. We first meet him visiting the site of what was once Rillington Place, the scene of the horrific murders of Mix’s hero, John Reginald Christie.

Elarica Gallacher as Nerissa Nash in 13 Steps Down
Stalker’s victim Nerissa

Mix Cellini is a stalker obsessed with serial killers
When Mix (Luke Treadaway) is not servicing fitness machines, he is servicing one or two bored rich women who own them. He rents a flat from Gwendolen Chawcer – a rather ‘irrational old bag’, as Geraldine James, who plays her, explains – and Mix’s place is packed with novels about serial killers.

His other obsession is a supermodel called Nerissa Nash (Elarica Gallacher), whom he stalks obsessively. His life spins into violence when a young woman he is sleeping with, Danila, criticises Nerissa while at Mix’s flat.

It’s a strange and compelling tale, with Mix’s neurosis mirroring the bitterness and delusions of his landlady, Gwen, who is sad and repellent at the same time. Add in Mix’s feeling that Christie is watching over him and you have an unsettling drama.

Luke Treadaway is compelling as Mix
Luke Treadaway, who we’ve seen in Attack the Block and Clash of the Titans, convincingly portrays Mix’s unnerving descent from reality, reaching a crisis in the second and final episode, in which he finally breaks the bubble of his fantasy world and approaches Nerissa. You feel a tinge of sadness for someone so out on their own.

Gemma Jones and Anna Calder-Marshall are wonderful as Gwen’s long-suffering friends, Olive and Queenie, who gradually become suspicious of her lodger.

Luke Treadaway and Victoria Bewick
Mix and Danila

Rendell is expert at pulling back the net curtains and revealing the madness and delusions of everyday life. Though the story feels a little shoehorned into just two episodes (it would have been interesting to know more of Mix’s background), this is still an engrossing thriller with a terrific gothic twist at the end.

Cast: Luke Treadaway Mix Cellini, Geraldine James Gwendolen, Elarica Gallacher Nerissa Nash, Gemma Jones Olive, Anna Calder-Marshall Queenie, Victoria Bewick Danila, Sam O’Mahony Darel, Maryam D’Abo Madame Odette, Laura Pyper Kayleigh, Ben Shafik Abba, Brian Bovell Tom

South Bank Show clip with Ruth Rendell talking about her novel

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Line of Duty series 2, Sebastian Bergman novel, Ruth Rendell’s Thirteen Steps Down on ITV1

• So, Line of Duty has been recommissioned for a second series, having concluded with the suicide of Lennie James’ character DCI Tony Gates at the end of the five-parter. The Beeb’s honchos are pleased with viewing figures of between three and four million for the drama, and Jed Mercurio did a fine job in creating a cop show that veered away from the boring procedural cliches – homicide cops turning up at a murder scene etc – for a more realistic slant on modern policing and corruption.

DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON), Detective Constable Kate Fleming (VICKY McCLURE)
Arnott and Fleming. Pic: BBC

The series had some tremendous twists, but the problem with stunning plot swerves is that the story then has to work bloody hard to make sense of them – and this is where Line of Duty went off the rails for me. Jackie’s murder was a gobsmacking moment, but was Gates’ appearance and framing for her murder fortuitous? Surely, it could not have been planned, so the killers, who were not that bright, suddenly improvised by setting up the detective? Gates’ suicide was another shocker, but somehow seemed a little false. After all, this was the great survivor, who insisted to the last that he wasn’t bent and loved his family.

And of course Dot’s emergence right at the end as the real supervillain was another stunner. So this suggests he knew of Tony’s secret affair with Jackie, and we were left to assume he somehow engineered his boss’s framing and downfall, though this was never explained. Arnott and Kate lying that Gates was pursuing the suspect when he was killed was ludicrous – there was a whole traffic jam of motorists behind who could have testified that that was not the case.

The Guardian has a good blog on the series, and they rightly point out that Line of Duty could have done with more episodes. And I also agree that it was more interesting when it was dealing with Tony’s corruption, before Jackie’s murder.

Overall, it was engrossing, and Lennie James, Vicki McClure, Adrian Dunbar and Neil Morrissey were all convincing in their respective roles. Series two should be interesting.

• Watch out for the forthcoming novel of Sebastian Bergman, on which BBC4’s recent two-parter from Sweden was based. I’ve been sent it by the excellent Shots ezine to review and I’m just about to start it. It’s written by a duo called (Michael) Hjorth (Hans) Rosenfeldt (the latter being the creator of The Bridge), and Rolf Lassgård was excellent as the police profiler tormented by the deaths of his wife and child in a tsunami.

• TV is absorbed with running, jumping, swimming and cycling at the moment, but there are one or two drama gems tucked in amid the London medal chases. Ruth Rendell’s Thirteen Steps Down comes to ITV1 on Wednesday, 1 August. Rendell seems to have less of a profile than she did 10 or 15 years ago, but she is still the queen of the disturbing psychological thriller. This two-parter, starring Luke Treadaway, Geraldine James and Elarica Gallacher, revolves around Max and the fantasies he has that steer him towards becoming a potential murderer. Preview coming next week.

• Finally, dreary Downton Abbey is up against Breaking Bad for best drama at this year’s Emmys. Breaking what? you may ask if you reside in Britain, owing to the criminal lack of airspace being given to this totally superb series in the UK. It’s better than Downton by miles, better than Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire – all of whom are in the face-off for the gong. Channel 5 showed series one and two of BB, which stars Bryan Cranston as a chemistry teacher with cancer who decides to become a illegal drug manufacturer. In terms of visually superb storytelling, originality and fine acting, BB is way out in front. Coming soon – CrimeTimePreview’s national campaign to get Breaking Bad back on our screens. Or you could get the DVD… Follow @crimetimeprev

Stephen Booth: Third Degree

Award-winning crime author Stephen Booth has written 11 mysteries involving the detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry with a distinctive, sometimes menacing Peak District setting. He was a newspaper and magazine journalist for 25 years before publishing the first Cooper/Fry novel, Black Dog, in 2000. crimetimepreview quizzed him about his criminal viewing activities… 

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

New Tricks. Some great character actors in that cast. Or perhaps Life on Mars, for the same reason.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

Law & Order: Criminal Intent with Vincent D’Onofrio.

Top TV cop?

It’s a difficult one. But for sheer longevity without losing my interest, I would have to say Inspector Frost

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?

Stuart Pawson’s Inspector Charlie Priest series has been overlooked for too long.

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?

There are no actors who exactly fit my picture of Ben Cooper or Diane Fry. But readers often write to tell me who they visualise when they’re reading the books. Usually, their ideas are quite different from mine! But I don’t mind – in fact, I like people to interpret the characters in their own way. Any TV or film adaptation would involve someone else’s interpretation of Ben or Diane, of course. And, as long as the actors do a good job, that’s fine by me.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience?

Some of the shows which I know are complete fantasy, like CSI or Waking the Dead. I watch them the way I would a science fiction  series – with a massive suspension of disbelief! But it’s fun to go along for the ride.

Least favourite cop show/thrillers?

I was very disappointed in the Wycliffe series, based on the books by W. J. Burley. I liked the books, but on screen the central character of Wycliffe became rather unpleasant and creepy.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

I’ve never seen The Sopranos, which I know puts me in a tiny minority. So it would have to be The Wire.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock. He’s a much more complex and flawed character.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Oh, definitely the Swedish version with Krister Henriksson. I really believe in him as Wallander. Kenneth Branagh has never convinced me – nor does Rolf Lassgård in the earlier Swedish version.

US or British television crime dramas?

British, as long as they’re well scripted and properly cast. There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

Peter Robinson, John Harvey, Reginald Hill, Ruth Rendell… and a whole lot more. Among US writers, the top man is Michael Connelly.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author

Douglas Adams. I once signed a few copies of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on his behalf. He was dead by then, so I didn’t think he would mind.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?

Se7en.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?

Well, none of those out-of-control drunks with personality disorders, thank you very much! I’d want someone I could trust to do a really good job. Like, say… Jules Maigret. He’d be about 130 years old now, though.

Stephen’s latest Cooper and Fry mystery, The Devil’s Edge, is published in the UK on 7 April. 


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