Olivia Colman

Watching the detectives: Line of Duty; Follow the Money; The Team; Broadchurch; Vera

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Without question we’re living in the middle of a crime spree. Television crime, that is. While the streets have arguably never been safer in real life, the small screen is delivering a never-ending stream of criminal activity right into our living rooms – and it seems we just can’t get enough of it.

Here’s a look at five detective shows that are currently back on the evening schedules. Spoiler alert: they’re all really worth watching, providing that you can stomach the glut of nefarious deeds on display! Read the rest of this entry »

The Night Manager E1 (BBC1)

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Contains plot details for episode one.

nightmanager-1John le Carré’s stories aren’t so much examples of spy thrillers as they are a genre entirely unto themselves. You know exactly what you’re going to get from a le Carré novel, and it has almost nothing in common with James Bond.

Le Carré’s stories are small, quiet and subtle. They’re about big, important and even world-changing themes and events, but they play out in the shadows of quiet out-of-the-way places. Everything of importance takes place under the surface so that the actual dialogue is very rarely a clue as to what’s going on, tending to the oblique and bland or even often downright deceptive. Instead we have to intuit the truth from a stray glance here, a nervous pause there, perhaps a significant exchange of looks or a puzzled frown. Everything is very precise, everything surely means something even if you don’t know what exactly.

In a screen adaptation of a Le Carré novel, that means that even the choice of location, how a set is dressed or lit, what a character is wearing, how long the director lingers on a particular shot and when the editor opts to cut away are all equally a part of this unspoken orchestration. You have to pay attention to everything because literally anything might be hugely significant in some way; but equally, you might end up getting drawn into a dead end or a trap. It’s enough to make you quickly fall into the same sense of unease, dread, suspicion and paranoia which is the essence of the world that all le Carré’s characters inhabit.

The level of chilly introspective precision required for a le Carré story is not for everyone. You’ll almost certainly know whether le Carré is your sort of thing or not; and by extension you probably also already know how you will feel about the BBC’s high-budget, high-profile adaptation of The Night Manager whether or not you’ve actually seen it yet. It’s every bit as good as a le Carré fan could possibly hope for; but at the same time, that faithful adherence to the le Carré style will not be for everyone and especially not for those who need their spy fiction to be a little less glacial and reserved. Read the rest of this entry »

Broadchurch S2 E1 (ITV)

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The biggest surprise at the conclusion of the first series of Broadchurch had been the appearance of the caption after the end titles boldly declaring that “Broadchurch will return”. Why such a surprise? The eight-part story surrounding the death of young Danny Latimer in a small south west coastal resort town had been such a perfect gem of a production that you couldn’t help but wonder just what on earth they could possibly do to extend the show that wouldn’t also end up wrecking the reputaion of the original in the process.

It was with this trepidation in mind that eighteen months later I sat down to watch the first episode of the second season – and happily, any fears or concerns that I had about whether Broadchurch could possibly return as strong as it went out were pretty much swept aside in the first ten minutes. In a ghostly echo of the way that the first series had kicked off, it opened with an overview of our sprawling main cast of characters as they started to converge on one particular destination in town. But there were no cheery nods and waved greetings this time; it was a far more sombre affair as they all headed to the local court to see the murderer of Danny Latimer formally enter his plea. Once this was done then everyone would be able to start to move on, recover and heal from the vicious wounds inflicted on the community by the original killing and the investigation that had followed.

The way the moment was built up, you just knew there was a sting coming. It wasn’t very hard to see what it had to be, either. But even so, the moment when it actually came was still enough to make you gasp and it actually felt like you’d been slapped round the face without warning. Any show that can achieve something of that impact before the first commercial break clearly knows what it’s doing, and there was no question that the showrunner and series creator Chris Chibnall was in assured form as he set about following the implications as they rippled through the community. Read the rest of this entry »

Sherlock “The Empty Hearse” / The Thirteenth Tale / Death Comes to Pemberley

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Christmas is over, the New Year has been seen in, but just before we exit holiday standby mode here are three quick reviews of BBC television festive fare from the last week. There are some mild, implied spoilers but nothing too overt.

Sherlock S3 E1 “The Empty Hearse” (BBC One)

sherlockcoverThe BBC’s high-quality modern version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective finally made its long-awaited return to our screens two years after Sherlock Holmes’ apparently fatal plunge off a hospital rooftop. There had been much speculation about how Holmes cheated death and the episode had great fun in dodging and deferring that question, instead presenting some of the more outlandish Internet theories that have been bandied around in the interim (one of which included a lovely cameo by Derren Brown); when the real solution is finally rolled out late in the day, the in-show conspiracy theorist deflates and pronounces it “Disappointing” before immediately picking holes in it, refusing to believe the answer – just like the real-life social media reaction that followed after the show aired. Co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat know their audience, that’s for sure. Read the rest of this entry »

Broadchurch E8 (ITV)

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Contains spoilers: if you haven’t seen the final episode, do not read on!

I can’t remember the last time that ITV went to town hyping the last episode of a drama series quite as much as it did with Broadchurch in the days leading up to Monday night’s conclusion to the eight-part series.

In many ways, all the build-up and hype were the show’s biggest enemies in the end, reducing the story of “Who killed Danny Latimer?” down to the same level of whodunnit parlour game as “Who shot JR?” or “Who killed Laura Palmer?”. In fact the show had never been intended a simple matter of guessing who the guilty party was: instead it was meant as a deep and emotional study on the effects of a terrible crime on a small close-knit community. A Fatal Attraction-style shock/twist ending was never really on the cards and just like Forbrydelsen before it, Broadchurch was determined not to go down that road no matter who it left feeling dissatisfied. Read the rest of this entry »

ReTake: Broadchurch E1-7 (ITV)

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ReTakes are second looks at things that have previously been reviewed on this site, with the intention of updating previous takes on the subject.

When I first reviewed Chris Chibnall’s story of a community struggling to come to terms with the murder of a local 11-year-old boy and the search for his murderer, I said that I didn’t understand the fuss and adoration that the series appeared to be getting from all quarters. While good, it didn’t seem to me to be that special, I wrote.

I largely feel the same way, to be honest, but want to add that the most recent half of the series has been a lot stronger and more gripping than the first half and that I’m certainly very pleased to have watched it from the start. I certainly wouldn’t dream of missing this Monday’s extended final episode in which all is (hopefully) revealed.

A lot of the things that niggled at me in the opening episodes have been attended to in what is clearly a meticulous and intelligently thought-out overarching plan. For example, the clichéd angst-ridden nominal star of the show – DI Alec Hardy, played by David Tennant – has been transformed by later events surrounding his health and revelations regarding a previous botched investigation elsewhere. And the co-star – DS Ellie Miller, played by Olivia Colman – has developed wonderfully. I originally criticised a scene in which she struggled to give a morning assignments briefing to the murder team, but in episode 7 there’s a reprise of that and her no-nonsense, hard-hitting professionalism is an effective demonstration of how hardened she’s been made by the events in the meantime.

So, fair play Mr Chibnall – you knew what you were doing, and you executed it brilliantly.

The last hurdle will be delivering an effective, satisfying climax and resolution to the story. This is easier said than done: even the superlative Forbrydelsen managed to not quite deliver the knock-out punch at the very end of its original 20-episode run. Will Broadchurch? I worry that, like its Danish antecedent, it might have shot its bolt too early: two moments in episode 7 – the appearance of the man that Susan Wright (Pauline Quirke) said she saw on the beach with Danny’s body; and the final words that Ellie says to Susan – point unequivocally to one suspect, and it’s someone who has topped most internet polls since almost the very first week of the show.

If it really does turn out that the solution is that ‘easy’ and obvious right from the start then it’s going to take some of the power out of the entire series. Even a late swerve from the ‘obvious’ suspect to the idea that he was merely covering up for someone else in his family would be a touch anti-climactic at this stage, and yet it seems that structurally at least the show has left itself no other path to go down in its final minutes. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s what happens, and how well it can pull off the big reveal by which it will surely be judged down the line.

The final episode of Broadchuch is at 9-10.05pm on Monday April 22 on ITV. It will be available via ITV Player for a week afterwards. The series is released on DVD on May 20, 2013.

Broadchurch (ITV) and Mayday (BBC)

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It’s funny how sometimes two shows (or two films, or two books) with almost identical ideas show up at virtually the same time. On the screen, we’ve had two volcano movies, two meteor films, two Capote biopics and two Snow White reboots show up at the box office within a few weeks of each other; and now we’ve had the TV equivalent, with two shows about shocking crimes being done to local children in small idyllic English communities airing within hours of one another.

Of the two, I think it’s fair to say that BBC’s Mayday had been widely derided, whereas ITV’s Broadchurch would be up for sainthood were it a person, such has been the adulatory response to it. I’m going to slightly take issue with that, but I’ll start by saying that the two shows are strong dramas, well made with excellent casts, and that both are certainly well worth watching.

So why didn’t Mayday go down that well while Broadchurch has been such a hit? It may be because the former is not the show that people thought they were getting from the trailers, whereas the latter emphatically nails it, delivering to and exceeding viewers’ expectations. Because the truth is that despite their similar-sounding premises, these are two surprisingly different shows. Read the rest of this entry »

Exile – E1 and Vera – S1/E1

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What’s with the TV networks at the moment? Just as the summer’s on the horizon and the evenings are lighter, suddenly they’re digging out a load of drama goodies from their storeroom and flooding the schedules with new, original productions left, right and centre – after the drought of winter packed with unending reality shows and unedifying talent competitions.

So last night, we had the BBC’s Exile head to head with ITV’s big new crime detective hope Vera from the “Vera Stanhope” series of novels of Ann Cleeves. Interestingly, both had very Northern tones to them: Vera is set in Tyneside while Exile is based in Lancashire.

Exile is about Tom, a seemingly successful journalist in London, whose life and career suddenly implode for unspecified reasons (although sleeping with the boss’s wife probably didn’t help matters) forcing him to return home to his father and sister’s house in small-town Lancashire. His father is suffering from fairly advanced Alzheimer’s, immediately making you suspect this is going to be one of those worthy, emotionally-wrought issue dramas and as a result the type of show that I would normally pass.

What makes the difference here is the pedigree of the show: as Tom, John Simm is one of Britain’s best actors of his generation, while Jim Broadbent is similarly one of the greatest actors of his time, too. They’re backed by a lovely performance from Olivia Colman as Tom’s sister, and the whole story is the idea of Paul Abbott, best known now for Shameless but who also created one of my all time thriller/conspiracy mini-series, State of Play – which stared John Simm as a journalist, coincidentally.

Simm’s character here is far less heroic – in fact he’s as screwed up and self destructive as any one man could be, giving Simm a lot to work with here and he doesn’t let us down. Broadbent gets less to do by virtue of his character’s condition but then inevitably proceeds to steal any scene he’s in. It’s almost enough to pull you in, even if it were just a family drama about the effects of that horrible degenerative disease, or a story about returning to one’s childhood home and discovering all too well that “you can’t go home again” and that the past is another, very different country – moments almost everyone has been through at some point in their lives and for whom this drama will hence ring very true indeed.

But the extra dimension here is that Tom’s father was a journalist too, and seems to have been hiding a secret from the 80s that is now lost in the collapsing ruins of his failing memory. What is that secret, and what damage has it done to father and son over the intervening decades? It’s an intriguing enough premise to make the whole production spring off the screen in an unexpected way, and suggests that this might be one of the drama series of the year.

Part 2 is tonight and part 3 Tuesday at 9pm. Part 1 is still on iPlayer, of course.

As for Vera – I didn’t watch it last night as it really simply didn’t appeal to me. I might try it on catch-up video on-demand, but I’m not sure if I have the patience left for another police procedural right now – maybe that’s what makes Exile feel so refreshingly different at the moment. Most of all, though, from the brief sequences I saw, I just didn’t fundamentally believe in the central character: much though I like Brenda Blethyn as an actress, she just seems very odd for the role of a Detective Chief Inspector (not least the fact that at the outset of the series, she’s already five years older than mandatory police retirement age). Then again I’m sure Colombo was no more realistic or believable as an LAPD lieutenant, and that didn’t seem to hold him back too much over the years.