‘Mystery Road’ – BBC4

Here’s a tip from Helen at entertainmentviews.co.uk on how to help fill the gap The Bridge left behind. How about a foreign detective drama shot in a bright warm landscape where you don’t have to read any subtitles? Aussie drama Mystery Road was on BBC4 earlier this year. If you missed it why not enter her competition to win a copy on DVD?

Entertainment Views

Star rating: ****

A new BBC Four crime drama from Australia, Mystery Road is worth a watch if you enjoy this particular genre and fancy a fresh take on your standard whodunit.

From the first episode the scene is set, and the location sets the tone of the drama, the team behind the show have certainly made the most of what Western Australia has to offer and it makes for some superb shots. The areas of Aboriginal land which were also used and added to the atmospheric approach which provided a very real overall feel to the television series.

The central character of Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) came across as somewhat of an introvert in the loosest sense, my initial impression of him was that of arrogance and nonchalance – certainly not an instantly likeable individual. However, as he gets to work on the task in hand…

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A view from The Bridge

Spoiler alert: Contains plot details for Series 4 of The Bridge

Writers Hans Rosenfeldt and Camilla Ahlgren promised great things with the final series of this international Scandi hit and viewers arrived back on the iconic Øresund Bridge with high hopes for our heroes Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) and Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt). Were they the awesome crime-fighting duo we’d seen at the end of series 3? Were they working together to solve the disappearance of Henrik’s daughters? Well, yes and no.

The series begins with Saga behind bars serving time for her wicked mother’s murder, patiently awaiting a re-trial. We know she didn’t do it, but how on earth can a cop with such limited social skills survive the system unscathed? Devoted Henrik who is trying hard to turn his life around is a frequent visitor. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder – their relationship seems much stronger than ever before. And a good job too, as there are some incredible storms to weather in this series – new highs and desperately tragic lows that are quite alien to Saga’s usual even keel. There’s heartbreak for all here, especially Saga as she finally has to confront her dreadful abusive childhood, and how it’s shaped her adult life. Saga in therapy is powerhouse acting from Sofia Helin, pushing at the limited scope in her character’s movements and facial expressions. I’ve not seen more entertaining and revealing therapy sessions since The Sopranos.

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‘Gomorrah’ – Series 1

Welcome to Italy, Naples to be exact. Only these intimidating inner-city destinations won’t be on any tourist trail. If you end up in these locations you holiday stroll has taken the worst of wrong turns. Welcome to Gomorrah.

Gomorrah is based on the non-fiction investigative book — 2006’s Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano, a journalist who got such a close and detailed look at Naples mafia he is now living in hiding. Gomorrah is the highest-rated show to ever air on the Italian network Sky Italia, far outstripping American imports such as Game Of Thrones and House Of Cards. There’s a strong familial resemblance to The Wire, as this captivating Italian series is also an immersive look at street-level crime, gang organisation and shocking scenes of unflinching violence.

Naples is a colorful city but those colours are washed-out neon, like looking at life through a fishbowl. In similar way to Braquo this is firmly set in the grimy underbelly of the city, filled with leather jacket wearing hard men. This is the territory of the mafia; running drugs, buying crooked cops and dishing out violence to all who cross them. And we meet them at a paranoid time – there’s problems with extra cops, neighbourhood watch and journalists crawling around the blocks. Everything is changing.

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‘Witnesses’ – Series 2

As you may have noticed I’m still waiting on the next big Euro drama to cross my path. All the Scandi stuff recently has me feeling a bit flat, with fairly promising starts leading to confused middles and ‘meh’ endings. It’s fine to have a beautiful backdrop of lakes and mountains, but you need to populate it with original characters leading interesting lives. The story needs to be multi-layered, but not too complicated; zoning out and playing with your phone is the absolute death knell for a subtitled drama. Both the good guys and the bad guys need to have clear motivations that we can relate to.

So with a Gallic shrug it might well be time to bid au revoir to the northernmost corners of Europe and see what France might have to offer; after all, the daddy of the noir resurgence in the past decade has been the Emmy award-winning and much loved Spiral. The most memorable dramas I’ve watched recently have been French, or part French; the balls-out action heros in Braquo, stylish super spies in The Bureau and the best character in Midnight Sun was the deeply troubled French detective.

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‘I Know Who You Are’ – Episodes 1&2

I Know Who You Are is a Spanish language thriller, unusual for BBC4  who seem to cover Scandinavia and France with their Saturday night detective drama slot. This was a hugely popular series with fans and critics. So just what is all the fuss about?

The first shot is almost zombie film imagery – a lone survivor of some nameless horror stumbling along the highway. This is Juan Elias (Francesc Garrido),a notorious and brutal lawyer, academic and general legal eagle. He’s the husband to a high court judge with all the right connections, and dad to two kids. Elias (confusingly everyone calls him by his middle name) finds all this out at the same speed as the viewer. He has what seems to be almost total amnesia after a car accident. Only he wasn’t alone in the car. His niece Ana has gone missing and there’s forensic evidence linking her to the crash. She’s missing and he hasn’t a clue what’s happened, or so he says.

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‘Eyewitness’

The Norwegian crime drama Eyewitness is a tricksy little fiend before we even start. I’ve been looking forward to this for literally months. Walter Iuzzolino (of Channel 4 Walter Presents fame) mentioned it as one to watch back at the end of last year at the live event in Birmingham Literary Festival in October. I might have been writing this blog for 18 months now, but I still have much to learn about what ‘coming soon’ means in the world of television.  Soon wasn’t soon enough, and while constantly refreshing the Walter Presents schedule I was getting antsy. Surely lovely Walter wouldn’t fail me. The days and weeks ticked by and winter became spring. It wasn’t in any listings for shows coming soon  until suddenly I saw an advert for it two weeks before the air date. Unfortunately for me, three weeks before the air date I’d bought it. In a dark moment of desperation I gave up on Walter and got the DVD. Lesson being, trust Walter and don’t worry. He’ll see you right.

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‘Apple Tree Yard’

Spoiler warning: this is a full review of Apple Tree Yard so if you’re spoiler conscious, please look away now!

Apple Tree Yard is an eye-catching thriller, adapted from the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty about Dr Yvonne Carmichael (award-winning Emily Watson) and dashing Mark Costley (Ben Chaplin). The pair meet by chance at the Houses of Parliament. She’s there to give a talk on her work in genetics. Why he’s there is never really explained. He bats his eyelashes at her and invites her to tour the secret chapel. That’s the magic words as within about 5 minutes of meeting they’re having sex! This is the very definition of a whirlwind romance.

This secret romance is a big deal to Yvonne. It’s all a bit grimy and sordid, but very exciting. She falls head over heels for a man she knows nothing about. It’s sort of a way to get her own back on her dodgy husband Gary (played by Mark Bonnar, an actor who seems to be in literally everything), but mainly to feel like an interesting and attractive middle-aged woman. I’d argue it’s the affair, not her Mr X as a person, that makes her feel good. It’s what it represents – the fight against aging and slowing down the inevitable invisibility as a desirable sexual woman. All this comes hot on the heels of her about to become a grandmother, and that’s surely no accident.

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