What Remains, BBC1, with David Threlfall, Russell Tovey, David Bamber, Indira Varma PREVIEW

David Threlfall as detective Len Harper in BBC1's What Remains
David Threlfall as detective Len Harper. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: transmission time to be announced

Story: When a new couple, Michael and his heavily pregnant partner Vidya, move into flat 4 of number 8 Coulthard Street, a leak in the loft causes them to discover the remains of Melissa Young hidden in the eaves. She has not been seen for over two years. No one has raised an alarm or even noticed that she was gone.

SHAMELESS WAS A blindingly good drama from C4, but the end of its decade-long run means we should start to see more of David Threlfall in new roles.

He’s a tad more coherent than Frank Gallagher in What Remains, as you would hope for a detective inspector investigating the mystery of a woman’s remains found in the loft of a house with several tenants/families living there.

Having said that, his character Len Harper is unshaven, grey-haired, shambling and scruffily dressed. On the other hand, he is about to retire so obviously doesn’t have to worry about making an impression.

David Threlfall’s detective is deeply affected by the lonely death

Not that he is demob happy. He is a widower, childless and clearly affected by the last call-out he has to attend.

Melissa Young’s mummified remains are found in the loft, two years after the other tenants thought she moved out. In fact, they’re all a bit unclear about what happened to Melissa, though Joe on the ground floor hasn’t missed her. ‘I didn’t like the girl,’ he tells Harper. ‘I think everyone would agree the house is greatly improved by her absence.’

Harper suggest Joe’s comments are harsh, but he is disturbed by this all too common modern occurrence – the person whose life has meant so little to those around them that no one notices their death or disappearance.

What Remains is much more than a whodunit

What Remains is a tender, compelling four-parter. At first sight it appears to be yet another formulaic police procedural – dead body, cops turn up, ask questions – but it is more three-dimensional than your average cop show. It’s about people living together, the dynamics of the neighbourly relationships, and Harper’s humanity in wanting to see that Melissa gets more consideration in death than she did when alive.

Threlfall is marvellous as the detective coming to the end of a decent, average career, having his low-key leaving booze-up, visiting a former colleague in hospital. He can’t let go of the Melissa Young case, however, perhaps dreading his own lonely years ahead, and he keeps returning to Coulthard Street.

‘Who was she?’ asks the colleague and lover of Keiron, Steven Mackintosh’s character.

‘No one,’ he replies.

Russell Tovey is Michael in BBC1's What Remains
Russell Tovey as Michael

Russell Tovey, David Bamber, Amber Rose Revah

And who are the tenants who lived in the same house with Melissa? Uptight Joe on the ground floor (a terrific David Bamber), an unhappy lesbian couple, Keiron and his teenage son, and the new faces who discovered the body – Michael (Russell Tovey) and Vidya (Amber Rose Revah).

Writer Tony Basgallop (who also wrote last year’s Inside Men) has created a thought-provoking whodunit, brought to life by a top-class ensemble cast.

Cast: David Threlfall Len Harper, Denise Gough Liz Fletcher, Lisa Millett DCI Alice Yapp, Alexander Arnold Adam, David Bamber Joe, Claudie Blakley Keiron’s colleague/lover, Jessica Gunning Melissa Young, Victoria Hamilton Peggy, Steven Mackintosh Kieron, Amber Rose Revah Vidya, Russell Tovey Michael, Indira Varma Elaine, Lee Nicholas Harris Station Desk Sergeant, Terence Beesley DCI Burrows

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