U Be Dead, ITV1 PREVIEW

Morrissey and
Fitzgerald
(Pics: ©ITV)

Rating: ★★★★

ITV1, Sunday 5 Sept, 9pm

David Morrissey and Tara Fitzgerald go through the emotional mincer in ITV1’s U Be Dead.

It’s the disturbing true tale of the psychiatrist and his fiancée viciously stalked by Maria Marchese, who was jailed for nine years in 2007 for what the Met called ‘one of the worst cases of stalking we have ever had to investigate’.

So often the manly hero, Morrissey (soon to be DI Thorne in Sky1’s new take on Mark Billingham’s detective) faced a delicate acting challenge as Dr Jan Falkowski, who goes from glamorous professional to stalker’s victim, to love rat and back to sympathetic victim.

‘Prepare for your funeral, not your wedding’ 
Fitzgerald, who is usually able to coast it in Waking the Dead, here reduces a courtroom – and surely a few front rooms when this goes out – to stunned, sympathetic silence as the fiancée forced to contemplate suicide by the vast and terrifying campaign of intimidation waged via mobile phone, email and written notes.

We first see Jan and Debbie Pemberton as a happy-go-lucky, dashing couple (he’s a power boat racer in his leisure hours). They are planning their wedding when the texts from hell arrive, and a two-year vendetta begins.

‘Prepare for your funeral, not your wedding’ is one to Debbie, and ‘U be dead’ another. Jan wants to be strong about it all and the police are informed. But the psychological horror of being targeted with death threats by someone who’s invisible starts to shred everyone’s nerves.

Sham wedding to flush out the stalker
It’s impossible to watch without thinking, Well, what would I do? Throwing away the mobile phones, the stalker’s main weapon of persecution, is no use because there are the emails, the written notes under the door, the twenty-odd calls to parents in one day, the stalker’s cancellation of the wedding reception, the bomb threat…

Their tormentor goes round with a bagful of change using dozens of public call boxes that can’t be traced. Friends, relatives and colleagues are obsessively badgered. This is stalking on a near industrial scale.

The couple and their families are under huge stress. Jan eventually starts a secret affair with a younger woman, Bethan Ancell (Lucy Griffiths, seen recently in Collision and Robin Hood).

Despite this, he goes through with a sham wedding to Debbie to flush out the stalker. In a bitingly tense scene, the police finally nab the woman, 45-year-old Argentinian-born Maria Marchese (played by Monica Dolan).

Accused of rape
But as the writer, Gwyneth Hughes, says, the twisting events are barely credible and could never be sold as fiction. So we are stunned but believe it when the Crown Prosecution Service decides there is not enough evidence to prosecute Marchese. She then accuses Jan of raping her.

Jan is a cold character, who has demanded Debbie should have been stronger. But it is to Morrissey’s acting credit that we come round to empathising with him again as the victim of a living torment.

Hughes, whose writing credits include Miss Austen Regrets and Five Days, had input from Jan, Debbie and Bethan and has created a powerhouse drama that will haunt you for days. Over two hours she builds a chilling portrait of two people stripped of their identities by years of lies and threats.

One question not resolved is what made Maria Marchese, who will be eligible for parole in 2012, the malevolent stalker she was.

Great scene: Tara Fitzgerald breaking down and reducing the courtroom to stunned silence

David Morrissey’s heavy caseload

Morrissey as
Dr Falkowski ©ITV)

Speaking of David Morrissey (Watching the new detectives this autumn – below), Sky1’s Tom Thorne dramas are not his only new outing in coming weeks.

He also gives a stand-out performance in U Be Dead on ITV1 in September, the harrowing true story of the London psychiatrist and his fiancée who were viciously stalked by Maria Marchese.

Morrissey is very good as the not-always-sympathetic Dr Jan Falkowski, while Tara Fitzgerald is moving as the fiancée, Debbie Pemberton, whom he cheats on during the dark days of their persecution.

I can’t give too much away about the drama – it’s is embargoed for a few weeks yet – but I would say the jaw-dropping horror this couple endured, along with the fine acting and writing (by Gwyneth Hughes), make U Be Dead compulsive and unforgettable. Marchese was sentenced to nine years in 2007 and the Met called it ‘one of the worst cases of stalking we have had to investigate’.

In terms of crime output, this has been a stunning year for Morrissey. We’ve already seen him as a detective in the BBC’s Five Days (also penned by Gwyneth Hughes), he squeezed in a role in Agatha Christie: Poirot for ITV (Murder on the Orient Express), and then there are the Thorne films, Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat, looming on Sky1.

Somehow, he also put a shift in on Blitz, a movie version of Ken Bruen’s novel, starring Jason Statham, Aidan Gillen and Paddy Considine, which apparently is coming out sometime soon.

No one could accuse this guy of not being much cop.

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