The Watchman with Stephen Graham

Channel 4's The Watchman

All eyes – Stephen Graham is Carl, the Watchman

A nail-biting evening spent in the lonely company of Stephen Graham’s CCTV operator

★★★½ C4, Wednesday, 24 August, 9pm

THIS IS A modern take on the 1954 Hitchcock classic Rear Window. Here, however, CCTV is our protagonist’s window on the world.

Carl’s a decent bloke, strong moral outlook, feeling fine about another all-night shift on his own manning the neighbourhood CCTV network.

Ironically, actor Stephen Graham virtually puts in a solo shift as Carl, so few scenes does he share with anyone else.

Stephen Graham The Watchman

All eyes – Carl at work

Writer Dave Nath

Seen recently in The Secret Agent, here Graham plays a more vulnerable character. Carl has a complicated home life, trying over the phone to placate his 16-year-old daughter in her strop with mum, while keeping an eye on a gang of young thugs on the local estate.

He also feels rather impotent in his role as guardian, repeatedly getting the brush-off from the police dispatcher when he tries to get officers to intervene as drugs are being dealt. Not enough manpower he’s told, by the dispatcher who clearly is contemptuous of him.

Writer/director Dave Nath found in his research that this is a common occurrence for CCTV operators. He visited CCTV nerve centres and says, ‘I visited one in particular, to look at the layout and how they worked. I started telling them about some of the storylines in the film. That sense of calling the police about stuff, and the police not being able to respond, was a daily occurrence. Also, the sense that shifts are increasingly one-man shifts. I find that worrying, placing one person in that position. It means your placing a hell of a lot of responsibility on that one person.’ [Read more…]

The Secret Agent, BBC1

Programme Name: The Secret Agent - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Verloc (Toby Jones), Vladimir (David Dawson) - (C) World Productions LTD - Photographer: Mark Mainz

Twisted loyalties – Verloc (Toby Jones) and Vladimir (David Dawson)

Claustrophobic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s heartbreaking spy saga

★★★ BBC1, Sunday, 17 July, 9pm

COSTUME DRAMAS are two a penny on British TV, but occasionally one comes along that really has a feel for period, rather than being a piece of fancy-dress nostalgia. This is one of the better ones.

It is, of course, based on Joseph Conrad’s classic spy novel, which Alfred Hitchcock also turned into a modern-day suspense flick.

For this three-parter, the BBC has lined up a fine cast and returned events to era of the novel – London, 1886.

Toby Jones as Verloc

Programme Name: The Secret Agent - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Winnie (Vicky McClure), Stevie (Charlie Hamblett) - (C) World Productions LTD - Photographer: Graeme Hunter

Family – Winnie (Vicky McClure), Stevie (Charlie Hamblett)

Taking the lead is Toby Jones as the horrible Verloc, owner of a seedy Soho smut shop. He is married to Winnie, played by Vicky McClure. Verloc is a second-rate agent-provocateur on behalf of the Russian government. When he is summoned to meet the new First Secretary, his cushy number is over.

Played with a mixture of evil and charm by David Dawson, Vladimir demands more of Verloc. He blackmails him into organising a bomb outrage that will be blamed on the anarchists Verloc is spying on.

Victorian London is evocatively recreated and filmed (without cloying chocolate-box tweeness), and the performers are extremely good. But it is the dynamics between the characters and the claustrophobia of unfolding events that makes the drama so gripping. [Read more…]

Boardwalk Empire — Killer TV No 11

BoardwalkEmpireS306-power-2

HBO/Sky Atlantic, 2010-present

‘Nucky, all I want is an opportunity.’ – Jimmy

‘This is America, ain’t it? Who the fuck’s stopping you?’ – Nucky

Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Graham

Identikit: The rise and regime of Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the corrupt Treasurer of Atlantic County, who exploits the corrupt possibilities of the Prohibition period of the 1920s.


logosRichly textured and ambitious epic about that unhinged, thrilling period of Prohibition America in the 1920s. It’s the kind of show only HBO and the American cable networks could make, tackling a cast of real characters and big subjects that dwarf any and every series made in the UK. Steve Buscemi is the focus as Nucky Thompson, based on Atlantic City’s real corrupt political figure of Enoch L Johnson, who sanctioned and cashed in on the bootlegging rackets in cahoots with the most lurid gangland figures in US history – Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein. The series was adapted by old Sopranos hand Terence Winter from a book by Nelson Johnson. It’s a huge story melding Nucky’s back-room dealings and private life with the quiet but determined Margaret, along with events such as the Black Sox Scandal, the rise of Capone, presidential elections and gang wars. Oddly enough, it is occasionally criticised for its slow pace, but it remains psychologically sophisticated and a mesmerising portrait of a wild age. Winner of 12 Emmys, two for Outstanding Drama Series, and the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series.

Classic episode: Two Impostors (ep 11, series 3). Nucky, Chalky and Capone line up against Sicilian psycho Gyp Rosetti, who’s threatening to dislodge Nucky from Atlantic City. An attempted hit on Nucky, car chases, shootouts. After a slow build, the series delivered full-throttle gangster mayhem. Even Nucky was blasting, and Capone was cool amid the bloodbath – ‘I’ve been on the road for 18 hours. I need a bath, some chow, and then you and me sit down, and we talk about who dies.’

Watercooler fact: The pilot episode was directed by Martin Scorsese and reputedly cost $18million to produce.

Accused — Killer TV No.33

1476517-low_res-accused

Stephen Graham and Sean Bean – Tracie’s Story

BBC1, 2010-2012

‘You’re the bitch. Right? Till you prove yourself in battle, till you return fire when under fire, you’re the bitch.’ Corporal Buckley (Frankie’s Story)

Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Joe Dempsie, John Bishop, Warren Brown, Peter Capaldi, Mackenzie Crook, Juliet Stevenson, Christopher Eccleston, Marc Warren, Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sean Bean, Stephen Graham

Identikit: As each week’s main character climbs into the dock, the events leading to their being accused and tried for a crime are revealed.

‘No police procedure, thanks very much, no coppers striding along corridors with coats flapping. Just crime and punishment – the two things that matter most in any crime drama’ – that’s how writer Jimmy McGovern described his anthology series. Each story features an ordinary person who ends up in the dock. How did they get there, and do they deserve to walk free or be locked up? The hook for McGovern is the ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ aspect to the lives of many working class people, the fine line between trying to do the right thing and ending up on the wrong side of the law. Such are McGovern’s credentials as the writer of powerful UK television dramas such as Cracker, Hillsborough and The Street that Accused pulled in the cream of British screen talent.

[Read more…]

Boardwalk Empire 5, Sky Atlantic, with Steve Buscemi, Stephen Graham, Kelly Macdonald PREVIEW

Boardwalk Empire - Series 05 Steve Buscemi
Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson looks out for new opportunities in Cuba. Pics: Sky Atlantic

Rating: ★★★★

Sky Atlantic: starts Saturday, 13 September, 9pm

Story: The series jumps forward seven years to 1931 as the country struggles to cope with the Great Depression and the end of Prohibition looms. Nucky sets his sights on a post-Prohibition future…

THE FIFTH AND FINAL season is back with a bang.

Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams)

Several bangs, in fact. And a stabbing, and a slicing, and… But Boardwalk Empire has always been about more than the bursts of violence, lurid though these can be. It has even been criticised for being too slow during past series.

Its speciality has been its portrayal of a slightly mad era in US history. Prohibition crept in and tipped the whole country into illegality and disregard for law and the Constitution. From the bold and lavish opening episode of series one, directed by Martin Scorsese (still an executive producer), it’s been a hotsy-totsy ride, as they might have said back then.

Nucky Thompson, the corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City – played with relish again here by Golden Globe winner Steve Buscemi – was the emblem of bent politics where it met gangsterdom. The bootlegging empires, the rise of mobsters such as Al Capone and the civic venality has all been engrossingly captured in a drama for which history was not a twee backdrop but the whole point of the show.

Nucky goes to Cuba

Boardwalk Empire - Series 05 Gretchen Mol
Gillian (Gretchen Mol)

As this series begins, the action has sped forward seven years to 1931. Prohibition is on its last legs and Nucky is in Cuba with Sally Wheet, planning to cash on the possibility of shipping Bacardi to the States the second the 18th Amendment of the Constitution is consigned to the bin.

The country is also reeling from the Great Depression, starkly illustrated in a tragic scene where Nucky’s estranged wife Margaret is shown at the Wall Street bank where she now works.

Actually, there’s so much going on in this opener, you need to be more alert that Nucky is in Cuba as he tries to dodge a particularly vicious assassin.

Five storylines unfold in tandem. In addition to Nucky and Margaret, we glimpse Nucky’s musings on his past in 1880s Atlantic City, when as a boy from an impoverished family he came into the orbit of the Commodore.

Chalky and Lucky Luciano

We catch up with Chalky, who’s fallen a long way from his power base, now shuffling along in a chain gang. Then there is also Lucky Luciano, who sets a bloody plan into operation, with

Boardwalk Empire - Series 05 Stephen Graham
Al Capone (Stephen Graham)

Vincent Piazza again a chilling presence as the gangster.

Some people say Boardwalk Empire is more akin to The Wire in its exploration of a society than The Sopranos, but it does look as though this final chapter will be more focused on Nucky than ever. The flashbacks are vivid and finally offer a glimpse into the motivations of the man at the centre of events. As he looks forward, Nucky can’t help looking back.

Boardwalk Empire has been overshadowed in the HBO stable by the likes of Game of Thrones, and has not often been the darling of the awards nights. But it has built into a fine series – season four was the best yet – and will be missed.

Oh, and when the violence comes, it gives you quite a jolt.

Cast: Steve Buscemi Nucky Thompson, Stephen Graham Al Capone, Kelly Macdonald Margaret Thompson, Gretchen Mol Gillian Darmody, Vincent Piazza ‘Lucky’ Luciano, Michael Shannon Nelson Van Alden, Paul Sparks Mickey Doyle, Shea Whigham Eli Thompson, Michael Kenneth Williams Chalky White, Jeffrey Wright Valentin Narcisse, Patricia Arquette Sally Wheet, Anatol Yusef Meyer Lansky, Ben Rosenfield Willie Thompson, Michael Zegen Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel

Also check out…
Boardwalk Empire on the HBO site
Sky Atlantic

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Gillian Anderson in The Fall, Danny Miller joins Scott & Bailey, Win a Mayday DVD

• Here’s a glimpse of Gillian Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson, who will we see this year in BBC2’s The Fall. The series is set in Northern Ireland and will see Anderson’s character, who is on secondment from the London Met, called in to track down a serial killer who is terrorising Belfast. Jamie Dornan will play Paul Spector, the murderer.

• Former Emmerdale and Lightfields star Danny Miller will be joining Scott & Bailey on 24 April (pictured below). His character, DS Rob Waddington, is set to shake up things for Janet (Lesley Joseph) and Rachel (Suranne Jones), particularly Janet. She’s been filling in for months as acting detective sergeant, only to see Rob the young high-flyer nip in and take the job. ‘He’s learning on the job,’ Danny says. ‘Janet takes him under her wing and he appreciates her experience and intelligence. He doesn’t like confrontation and would rather sit down and work things out. Yet when he has to put his foot down, he will.’ Though S&B has been terrific, the male characters have all been either stupid, pathetic or lecherous. It will be interesting to see if Rob breaks the mould. And, when Janet and Rachel fall out later in the series, will Janet be able to turn to the younger man for advice?

It’s the Bafta TV Awards on 12 May at London’s Royal Festival Hall and there are some terrific crime dramas in the running. CrimeTimePreview will be cheering on Sean Bean and Stephen Graham, who were bold and brilliant in the first episode of the Accused series, Tracie’s Story, in which Bean played spectacularly against type as a transvestite in love. Sheridan Smith (Mrs Biggs) and Sienna Miller (The Girl) are among those scrapping for Leading Actress. Olivia Colman, who could probably be nominated for everything she’s in at the moment (particularly Broadchurch), is up for Supporting Actress in Accused. Scott & Bailey and Ripper Street are chasing Best Drama Series (surely Scott & Bailey is better). And a particular favourite at CrimeTimePreview HQ from 2012 was Murder, which is up for Best Single Drama. Directed by The Killing‘s Birger Larsen for BBC2, this was a gripping depiction of the messiness and ambiguities involved in a murder case. See Bafta’s full nomination list.

• It’s competition time! The first three crime TV fans who become a member of the CrimeTimePreview gang (see the column right), will receive copies of the sinister thriller series Mayday. The complete series of the BBC drama starring Peter Firth and Sophie Okonedo was released this week, costing £19.99. It was written by the team responsible for that other creepy detective series Whitechapel, Ben Court and Caroline Ip, and told the story of the residents of a small town coping with the disappearance of a teenager who was supposed to head the Mayday parade. The woods outside of the town are menacing, while several residents have secrets to hide. So what happened to the May Queen? The DVD’s special features include The Making of Mayday, Cast Filmographies and a Picture Gallery. 
This offer is open to UK residents only. The first three people who become Members of CrimeTimePreview (Join this site, column, right) will be posted free copies of Mayday. The selectees will need to provide their postal address. Deadline: Saturday, 20 April. No prize alternatives. If anyone registers but declines the Mayday DVD, an alternative winner will be selected.

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Boardwalk Empire series three with Steve Buscemi PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★★½

Sky Atlantic: Saturdays (from 29 September), 9pm

Story: Welcoming in the New Year – 1923 – Nucky Thompson tells his bootlegger compadres that he will no longer be supplying them with booze. He will only sell to Arnold Rothstein, and they will have to pay his price…

Nucky’s Egyptian-theme New Year’s Eve bash. Pics: BSkyB

The champagne corks are popping – Boardwalk Empire is back. It’s the eve of 1923 and Nucky Thompson is about to make a whole new hive of enemies.

Having offed his former protege, Jimmy Darmody, in series two’s finale, the bootlegging politician wants to simplify his life by turning into a booze wholesaler who supplies just one man, Rothstein, instead of all his former cohorts. When he announces this at a lavish New Year’s Eve party at his home, Nucky makes some nasty people very unhappy about having to pay Rothstein’s price – including the new psychopathic Sicilian in town, Gyp Rosetti.

Sicilian with a Gyp on his shoulder

Bobby Cannavale as Rosetti

In the opener Gyp was introduced to us as he takes a metal tool to the head of a sweet old guy out walking his dog. The reason – the old boy was trying to be helpful.

Boardwalk Empire has been criticised for being short of explosive action, and it’s made hardly a ripple in the UK because it’s tucked away for a small audience on Sky Atlantic. But it is a superb drama, a rich recreation of a fascinating and wild period, and season three’s opening episode was fizzing with conflict.

As the trailer above makes clear, Nucky – an Emmy-winning performance by Steve Buscemi – is precariously balancing between being a corrupt political operator and an all-out gangster. His relationship with Margaret has soured, and she is becoming enmeshed in the affairs of a hospital of which she is a patron, and is perhaps attracting a new admirer there.

Stephen Graham as Capone

Al Capone makes an enemy
The eerily masked man, Richard Harrow, had the episode’s one gun blast to his credit when he took out Manny Horvitz in revenge for killing his secret love, Angela Darmody. More problems there for Nucky.

And Al Capone is emerging as a significant force, here having a serious falling-out with Irish hoodlum Dean O’Banion.

As the actor who plays Capone, Britain’s Stephen Graham says in an Observer interview, the infamous gangster’s character will be developed in season three as we see him as a father as well as fearsome mobster.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson

In coming weeks Rosetti will be moving against Nucky and Rothstein, and former G-man turned struggling door-to-door salesman Van Alden is in for an interesting time having fortuitously saved O’Banion from Capone at the Irishman’s flower shop.

With the creative forces of The Soprano‘s writer Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese behind it, Boardwalk Empire is period drama with punch.

Where UK history shows such as Downton Abbey, with its airbrushed view of life below stairs, is a watered down version of the past, Boardwalk Empire‘s evocation of the mad, messy Prohibition era is 95% proof. Go for the real stuff.

Cast: Steve Buscemi Nucky Thompson, Kelly Macdonald Margaret Thompson, Michael Shannon Nelson Van Alden, Shea Whigham Eli Thompson, Michael Kenneth Williams Chalky White, Jack Huston Richard Harrow, Paul Sparks Mickey Doyle, Michael Stuhlbarg Arnold Rothstein, Stephen Graham Al Capone, Vincent Piazza Lucky Luciano, Gretchen Mol Gillian Darmody, Anatol Yusef Meyer Lansky, Bobby Cannavale Gyp Rosetti

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Good Cop, BBC1, starring Warren Brown PREVIEW

Warren Brown as PC Rocksavage. Pic: BBC

Rating: ★★★★½

BBC1: starts Thursday, 30 August, 9pm

Story: PC Rocksavage sees his patrol partner suffering a sadistic attack, which sends his already complicated life into turmoil when he takes matters into his own hands.

Warren Brown steps up from being Idris Elba’s sidekick in Luther to leading player in this complex, powerful new cop drama.

This is one of the best opening episodes to a crime show I’ve seen this year, Line of Duty included. It’s morally fraught, violent and has a captivating hero on the edge.

Brown is a Liverpool response cop, the ones who race around in cars. PC John Paul Rocksavage (Sav) is a decent guy who looks after his ailing father (Michael Angelis) and is obviously crushed by his estrangement from Cassandra and their daughter, Libby, whom we see bumping into Sav on Crosby beach as the story begins.

Stephen Graham is the nasty, brutal Finch
Later, he is having lunch with his mate and colleague Andy Stockwell (Tom Hopper), when he sees a man called Finch, who’s there with a gang of men, terrorising a waitress. Sav orders him out of the restaurant, but Finch promises that the next lone copper he sees will get a beating.

Finch is played by Stephen Graham, who when he’s not portraying sociopaths such as Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire is giving us a convincing skinhead in This Is England 86, and he is a scarily confrontational psycho.

The next isolated copper he meets is Sav’s partner Andy, and Sav sees his horrendous beating when he is locked out of party in what looks like a squat that they have been called to subdue that night.

Warren Brown is excellent as the cop on the edge
Shattered by that moment, Sav is soon engaged in a face-off in which he makes a snap decision that twists his life and career into dangerous, illegal territory.

It’s a blinding opener and Warren Brown is totally believable as a decent bloke who does a brave job in confronting criminals, but ends up on the wrong side of the law.

The mood is noirish, with dark rainy nights and a flawed hero struggling against trouble. Mark Womack plays the formidable investigating DCI, who is clearly going to give Sav a hard time.

Writer Stephen Butchard
Good Cop is written by Stephen Butchard, whose credits include Stolen, House of Saddam and 2010’s superb and moving Five Daughters, a sympathetic protrayal of the young women murdered in Ipswich in 2006.

He explains the drama’s genesis: ‘I started with the premise of thinking about a police show, and then I thought of a beat cop. Looking at the existing police shows, they seemed to be dominated by procedural or science elements, and I was interested in a more human aspect to policing, the very sharp end and the first man on the scene.

‘From a dramatic element I wanted to go back to the simplest thing and that was the man, the human being in the uniform, knocking on the door and not knowing what was behind that door or what was coming.’

It’s a realistic, truthful four-parter that’s free of tedious forensics and lurid plot twists. It’s also more than a match for Luther.

Cast: Warren Brown PC John Paul Rocksavage, Michael Angelis Robert Rocksavage, Aisling Loftus Cassandra, Tom Hopper Andy Stockwell, Stephen Graham Noel Finch, Stephen Walters Callum Rose, Joe Macaulay Jonjo Heinz, Jodie Comer Amy, Johann Myers Gary Walton, Carl Rice Philip Davenport, Kerrie Hayes WPC Amanda Morgan, Kevin Harvey Sergeant Middleton, Robbie Jarvis DCI Stoddart, Christine Tremarco Nurse Justine, Mark Womack DCI Costello, Philip Hill Pearson DC Liam Frainey, Shaun Mason Kyle Smart 

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