‘The ABC Murders’ – BBC1

Spoiler warning: details about the murderer lie below!

Mustache-twirling Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is a beloved character in literature, in cinema and on TV. Recently he’s been re-imagined as a Hollywood action hero by Kenneth Branagh in a slightly strange but ultimately well-received version of Murder on the Orient Express. So now to the BBC’s Christmas drama schedules, a big part of which has been Agatha Christie adaptations by Sarah Phelps. Over the past few years she’s brought us Ordeal by Innocence, And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Ginger and restrained adaptations are not Phelp’s style. How do you rip up the rule book but stay true to the source material?

It turns out all you need to do is wait. The passage of time makes characters different people, more fragile and sympathetic, more human. John Malkovich portrays the great detective as a weary yesterday’s man – the ying to David Suchet’s dapper and self-important yang. He’s dismissed as just another nosy parker by the young and very serious Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint). The world has moved on since Poirot’s celebrity heyday. This is all done in an extremely heavy-handed fashion as Poirot’s retired police pal Japp literally drops dead in front of him. Alright, alright, we get it – everyone is mortal. Poor old Poirot is lonely; in desperate need of a Scooby gang – despite first appearances he’s no good at coping with life alone and forgotten.

Enter the murderer who remembers Poirot at the height of his powers and wants to play a game. By letter he tells him he’s off to kill a series of people throughout the UK whose names start with each letter of the alphabet in turn and it’s up to Poirot to figure out the connection between the seemingly random victims stop him. What an effort from the murderous mastermind to troll Poirot pre-Twitter. Think of the expense in stamps alone!

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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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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 7

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 7. Catch up with all the reviews here. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule!

Happily we still have a Henrik this week. Our brave and stupid Dane gets off with a serious pain in the leg and a severe tongue lashing from boss Lillian about his ridiculous risk-taking. As predicted the GoPro killer (what is his/ her official nickname?) didn’t want to shoot Henrik as death to them is the easy way out. He wants his victims to suffer.

The Case

Chris flees from crazy Frank locking him up in the old factory. Frank looks like his hobby is well-planned. He’s got history in kidnapping kids.

Decapitation and firing squad are the methods left unchecked on the team’s control room list. So that’s equal parts terrifying and spectacular.

Mysterious dead Douglas was a Private Investigator who Niels says he hired after his wife’s death to hurry the investigation along. Saga uncovers private police documents in his office that show the mole in the team is working hard on leaking sensitive information all over the place.

Saga is on to Anna, Astrid and Frank thanks to Chris’ confession about killing Dan in the Village of the Damned. Frank seems so reasonable but there’s a monster is hiding just under the surface of respectability. In this episode Frank’s answer to everything is violence. The tension is unbearable as Frank locks the front door and goes to find Astrid toting a shotgun. (“For fucks’ sake! We demand a happy ending!” is written in my notes at this point.) Why did the sniper not take the clear shot he had at Frank’s squishy little head? And how come they can organise a whole SWAT team for a cold case with little to no notice? Those questions aside, good work team!

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 6

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 5. Catch up with all the reviews here. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule!

This week is Tommy’s story. The guy Henrik picked out of the files and put at the top of the investigation board gets a 18 minute long pre-credit explainer. I’m not usually a fan of this way of storytelling, but we are presented with a perfect concise package – a gift to the viewer that comes packed with answers we’ve been dying to find out for weeks.

Four Years Ago

Tommy Peterson worked for the dangerous mob boss William Ramberg, and was a police informant trying desperately to keep a violent gang war from happening. Henrik and Lillian promised to intervene before the shooting started, but couldn’t get sign-off from the prosecutor’s office. All this takes place on Tommy’s son’s birthday, and his son is revealed as wheelchair-user Kevin from Henrik’s NA group. Only four years ago he had the use of his legs and was called Brian.

Tommy is a patient of Niels the psychologist who can’t help him other than by prescribing drugs. And he goes to Richard Dahlqvist to do a tell-all for a newspaper – “Six Dead in Gang War. Police Informed, Did Nothing”. Unfortunately Richard’s eye for detail is Tommy’s ultimate undoing. The way he smokes a cigarette is distinctive and described in the article. In a terrifying meeting with William it’s clear the gangsters know he’s the snitch and they’re preparing to kill him. Turns out Danish cigarettes can kill you in two very different and equally nasty ways. Tommy is clever though, and has set up an escape route but is let down by his friend Moyo. In a classic gangster movie scene it’s William in the car who comes by to sweep up poor Tommy. There’s nowhere left to run.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 1

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 1. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule.

Hey, you can come out from behind the cushion now. Is everyone ok? Take a deep breath, shake your fist at BBC2 for making you wait a whole week for the next episode and let’s process that remarkable hour of television.

So The Bridge is back with a bang, gleefully ramping up the tension, messing with our expectations of Saga and Henrik, all while introducing the usual cast of victims, ne’er-do-wells, and various hangers-on, some of whom will inevitably be added to the final body count.

We begin with a striking close up of Saga’s face, silent, dark and isolated. She wakes and sighs, remembering she’s in a nightmare she can’t escape from. She’s been in prison since the end of series 3 and I was worried her character development and personal resilience would be set back to zero but she’s doing her best. She awaits the outcome of her retrial for her manipulative mother’s murder. Remember she has a motive, no real alibi (she was set up to be alone in a graveyard when her mother died) and there was forensic evidence all stacked up against her. It sees a new witness has come forward, but Saga’s simple belief in right and wrong, and the power of the law has been firmly shaken. And she’s floundering. If she’s not a cop then where does that leave her. Without the job who is she?

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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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‘Britannia’ – Sky Atlantic

Britannia is the much discussed and much trumpeted new Sky Atlantic drama. It’s also the first co-production between Sky and Amazon. It’s written by Jez Butterworth, who seems to have theater and screenwriting experience in spades, but not much on the CV for telly. Not like our collective expectations are set too high, but it’s been bandied about that Sky are in desperate need of something substantial in the swords and bloodlust category as the wait for Game of Thrones will be glacial. But the people who have seen it already are split into two camps – either it’s brilliantly bat-shit or terribly confusing. Well, which is it then?

Set in 43 AD this is about the Roman conquest of Britain. This is the second time around, as Julius Cesar went home with his tail between his legs in 54 BC, and boy, despite the man being long dead, do we hear a lot about that. We meet General Aulus Plautius, played by David Morrissey, not worrying in the slightest about his accent or where in the Roman Empire he hails from. To misquote Doctor Who, a lot of countries have a north. Aye up legionnaires!

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