Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Remains

What Remains is the new Sunday night thriller on BBC1, written by Tony Basgallop and directed by Coky Giedroyc, both of whom I am a big fan of.  Throw in David Threlfall, one of our finest stage and screen actors who has rather been wasting his time for the last five or six seasons of Shameless, and I'm hooked before it starts.

Happily, the opener exceeded expectations.  Based on the recent case of a young woman who withdrew from the world and was found, mummified, some years later, Threlfall's character, DI Len Harper is given the case at the fag end of his career.  He actually retires at the start of Act Three.  But Melissa's lonely demise won't release its grip because he too is lonely with nowhere to go.

Melissa lived and died in one of the leasehold flats into which a middle-sized suburban house has been subdivided.  The other tenants have their stories and their secrets.  Who is that woman David Bamber seems to keep?  What happened to the other lesbian?  And, of course, who clobbered Len over the napper at the end of the episode?  Compulsive viewing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Field of Blood

BBC1 ended the week with a welcome follow-up to Denise Mina's Field of Blood, first shown in 2011.  The first series was set in 1982, the second, adapted from Mina's novel The Dead Hour, is coming up to Christmas 1984, during the miners' strike and Thatcher's war on the trades unions.  This alone would be enough to satisfy me, but we also have a takeover of the Glasgow-based Scottish Daily News and the arrival of the owners' representative, diamond-hard Maloney (Katherine Kelly).

Continuing from series one we have, of course, the excellent Jayd Johnson as investigative girl reporter Paddy Meehan, Ford Kiernan as the old hack she's partnered with, and David Morrissey, on top form as the last editor with principles.  The plot device is that Thatcher is using GCHQ to frame the miners' leaders, no news to those of us with memories but well worth reminding the rest of the world.  Especially now they're doing it again, only this time as an offshore agent of the Land of the Free.

The acting was good (check out Bronagh Gallagher's tour de force of expressive silence when Paddy breaks the news at the end of Episode Two) but David Kane's dramatization was a touch perfunctory and his direction was little better.  Had it been shown at a time when it wouldn't be so directly comparable to The Returned and Top of the Lake, I doubt the shortcomings would have been so noticeable.  But, hey, at least this series got a primetime slot, 9pm on Thursday and Friday.  The last series was in the twilight zone after the late news.

Will there be a third series?  Hopefully so - there is a third novel, The Last Breath.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Top of the Lake, Love/Hate and Southcliffe

Top of the Lake is a six-hour mini series from Jane Campion, director of The Piano.  In the States it was shown on the Sundance Channel.  Here in the UK, it's the Saturday night highlight on BBC2.  First off, it looks stunning - the awesome landscape of New Zealand without all the Lord of the Rings crap.  The story is compelling - twelve year old Tui tries to drown herself in the titular lake.  At the police station she bonds with Detective Robin (Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss) but then vanishes.

What we have is a big story on an enormous canvas.  There are dozens of leading characters, all of them distinct and expertly rounded.  In the middle of the maelstrom we have Tui's father, the local hard man (played by Peter Mullan, a hard man in any hemisphere) and the guru of the women's camp (Holly Hunter) which has set up on Mullan's land, the ironically named Paradise.

We're four episodes in now.  Robin's back story is slowly being revealed.  I am spellbound.

A cynic might dub Top of the Lake as BBC2's answer to Channel 4's The Returned.  They're both beautiful and both have lakes in them, but so far at least nobody in New Zealand has turned out to be a zombie.  Southcliffe (C4) is equally reminiscent of Broadchurch (ITV1).  Again, it's not really.  Both are set in small coastal communities, but Broadchurch involved us through its characters and expert plotting whereas Southcliffe has failed to involve me yet (and we're halfway through) because it's just a Hungerford-style shooting rampage and people's reaction to it.  It may improve now that Rory Kinnear's TV newshound has shown up (Southcliffe is his home town and, like Robin in NZ, he has dark secrets buried here) but I'm not confident.  None of these people are likeable, it's all unremittingly grim, and the photography is downright bloody awful.  There was a pub scene in episode two which was shot in shades of ochre - yet it wasn't 1974, so why?

Finally, a cheer for Channel 5 who have to acquire the leavings of other channels but every now and then come up with a cracker.  This summer it's RTE's Love/Hate, about young gangsters in Dublin's fair city.  It stars Robert Sheehan, who was so annoying in Misfits but who is absolutely brilliant in this.  His bĂȘte noire is Aiden Gillen, who is meant to be annoying and does it with his customary aplomb.  It's three years old, this series, so it predates his turn in Game of Thrones.  I find myself hooked.