TV Review: Murderland

“You’re not a child any more”

As the first DVD I put on to start my Lucy Cohu marathon, my heart sank a little when her first appearance in Murderland was as the main subject in a photograph of a murder scene. But as her face was on the cover, I hoped that her role would be more than just a fleeting one in this 2009 ITV drama. Written by David Pirie, the three-parter examines the lasting impact of a violent crime and the mysteries surrounding it, viewed from the shifting perspectives of the murdered woman, her traumatised daughter and the investigating detective.

It’s not the most sophisticated of crime dramas, truth be told, but it is certainly competently done and intriguingly put together as events start off in the present day with a woman, the ever-wan Amanda Hale, running from her wedding day. Her distress comes from the unsolved murder of her mother some 15 years earlier which she is now determined to solve and visits Robbie Coltrane’s DI Hain to get his help as he was intimately involved in the case – and more so than she realises. The story then flips back to the time of the crime to give an account of what happened. As the show progresses and we, and Carol, find out more and more, the events around the murder are revisited and replayed getting us ever closer to the terrible truth.

The emotional strength of the story comes from the younger Carol – Carrie – played with a bruising rawness by Bel Powley, who is battered with the uncomfortable revelations about her murdered mother whose body she found and retreats into a blinkered determined mental state – the murderland of the title – as a coping mechanism. As Sharon Small’s psychologist fusses around her and Coltrane’s Hain does everything he can to track down the murderer, including pushing Carrie to the limits of her endurance, Powley plays the damaged teenager with great skill. And in the scenes we get of her interacting with her mum, there’s some lovely work from Cohu as a devoted mother and complex woman, driven to the brothel by circumstances and able to square her choices with her lifestyle, though ultimately to her cost.    

With the scenes set in the 90s, there’s an interesting look at the subtle differences of how police cases were run, with perhaps not quite the same strictness in maintaining the forensic integrity of a scene and a more clinical view of child psychology at play. And there’s definitely interest in watching the case unfold its many twists and turns – the delightful Lorraine Ashbourne pleasingly playing a key role – and so whilst its not a wholehearted recommendation, you could do worse than give this a watch. 

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