ITV has had a bit of a coup with the new London noir drama series Marcella. Written by Hans Rosenfeldt, the Swedish guy behind The Bridge which was such a success for BBC4, you’d think that naturally this would go to the Beeb. But no – it starts on ITV tomorrow night (Monday 4th April at 9pm).
I think it’s clear that ITV have been inspired by recent Scandi noir successes (The Bridge, The Killing etc) and by the revitalised UK detective dramas that have been must-watch tv – Happy Valley and Luther. The bucolic Midsummer Murders is done. Professor Plum in the dining room with the candlestick didn’t do it. It’s all gotten rather gritty, which is no bad thing. But can this writer shift his focus to London, or will the whole thing be lost in translation?
It’s a shocking start – ex-detective Marcella Backland (Anna Friel) looks to be relaxing in the bathtub, but the camera swings round and she’s injured and covered in blood. What’s happening? Cut to ’12 days earlier’. Oh dear. That’s a red flag. It’s a particular bugbear of mine – the writer is admitting the story isn’t very exciting, but hang on viewers! Stick around! It gets better, honest! I think it’s a pretty lazy way to try to get your viewers interested.
So, as with most things at the moment, it looks beautiful. The credits zoom past with crazy bright images of London and the mood they’re setting makes me think of Luther. The lighting director needs an award for the use of colour and darkness – amazingly vivid colours bathed in shadows, like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. But pretty isn’t going to score you any points in this game.
Rosenfeldt has been at great pains to point out that Marcella is not Saga Norén,the awesome homicide detective in The Bridge. In the Radio Times he says “I was very, very keen that if we were going to create another female detective, hunting down serial killers, it should be something completely different from Saga”. But it’s clear Marcella is a woman struggling with her police officer past and her miserable present, and by the end of episode one we strongly suspect she is in the middle of a mental breakdown.
Coming back from a career break, she rushes into the office thanks to her amazing powers of recall about a case from seven years ago. Oh, and she held on to the case file in her cupboard, as you do. Like Carrie in Homeland she plunges in with no exit strategy or concern for her state of mind and is fully immersed in minutes, covering the walls of her house in the classic cop show décor of map, mug shots and graphic crime scene photos. Is she obsessed? Probably. Is she struggling with the end of her marriage? Definitely. Smashing up her husband’s car makes that quite clear. And her violent fantasy of throwing him downstairs, which seems to be a total break with reality. Maybe she has a mental disorder too, but something much more dangerous than Saga’s Asperger’s syndrome.
At the minute the case of the suspected serial killer (also back from a career break) plays second fiddle to Marcella herself and whatever’s going on in her head. Shout out to Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) from Downton wearing a lovely leather jacket and chatting up a ex-con. But I really don’t give a toss about Marcella’s dull husband, his dull construction project (Will there be a park on the roof of the building in Lambeth? Will the Council sue? Who cares?!) and the dull family drama amongst his colleagues. I’m sure it’ll link up eventually, but I’m not sure I feel like investigating any further.
The Bridge grabbed you instantly and I was fascinated by both the procedural element and the personal lives exposed by the case. I can’t say the same for Marcella. Out of loyalty/ hope/ concern I might stick with it until episode 2, but only if something exciting happens. Otherwise I’m out.
Marcella starts on ITV at 9pm Monday 4th April or watch episode 1 now on ITV Hub