TV Review: Silent Witness Series 1

Is Silent Witness the new The Bill in terms of most actors having a credit on their CV? I start a rewatch of the last 24 years with Series 1…

“They say a victim dies only once, but a scene can be murdered a thousand times”

As it approaches its 25th anniversary, and since the BBC have kindly put all 219 episodes on the iPlayer, my infinite wisdom has decided that I’m going to do a watch/rewatch of Silent Witness. I can’t be fully precise because I don’t really remember exactly when I started watching the show – it arrived on BBC1 in 1996 but my first clearest memory is actually of the brilliant, and sadly not online, French and Saunders spoof Witless Silence. (Seriously, if anyone can point to where I can watch it again, get in touch!)

Creaated by former police officer Nigel McCrery, Series 1 introduces us to the world of forensic pathology through the eyes of the Northern Irish Dr Sam Ryan, Amanda Burton getting her name above the title in the iconic leading role. And as she moves to Cambridge to take up a position aiding the police with their enquiries and also to be closer to her mother who is ailing with dementia, there’s something really quite bold in just how chilly and spiky Ryan is as the central figure. Uber-professional to be sure but defiantly uncompromising with it. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 1”

Film Review: The Dig (2021)

Simon Stone creates a beautifully warm Britflick in the gentle Sutton Hoo drama The Dig

“Don’t let Ipswich Museum take your glory”

If you had to guess which particular avant-garde theatre director was responsible for The Dig, I’m pretty sure no-one would plump for Simon Stone. But after blistering takes on the likes of Medea, Yerma and The Wild Duck, UK historico-fiction is where we’ve ended up and what a rather lovely thing it is.

Written by Moira Buffini from John Preston’s novel, The Dig takes the true story of the Sutton Hoo excavation, when a self-taught archaeologist unearthed an Anglo-Saxon burial mound, and builds a world of classic English emotional restraint around it, even as amazing treasure is revealed. Continue reading “Film Review: The Dig (2021)”

TV Review: Messiah – The Harrowing (2005)

Helen McCrory and Maxine Peake help elevate Messiah – The Harrowing to arguably the series’ devastatingly effective high point

“See beyond the victim, see the killer”

The first series of Messiah is certainly one of the best, setting the wheels in motion for an effective crime series, but I’d argue that it is the fourth instalment Messiah – The Harrowing that is the best of them all. The arrival of a new writer – Terry Cafolla – releases the show from the baggage of its legacy which seemed to weigh the last series one and produces something that is really, well, harrowing.

Harking back to that first series and its connecting device of people being killed in the style of the Apostles, the murderous connection here ends up being Dante’s The Divine Comedy and its descent into hell. And weighted around the death by suicide of the daughter of one of their colleagues, Red and his team (with Maxine Peake’s DS Clarke now in for a retired Kate) find themselves once again up against the darkest parts of human nature. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Harrowing (2005)”

TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)

With its third instalment The Promise, Messiah loses its way a little bit given the high standards of the first two serials

“I wasn’t alone, other people were there”

The problem with doing things so damn well, is that you then have to live up to those standards. Messiah found itself in such a position after a first and second series that helped to redefine the serial killer genre and with  2004’s The Promise, it struggled to meet that bar. Written again by Lizzie Mickery, it suffers from the unnecessary compulsion to cleave to the template of prior series rather than having the boldness to step outside.

So with Ken Stott’s Red and Neil Dudgeon’s Duncan pasts having figured so heavily in the last two series, it isn’t hard to work out that it is Frances Grey’s Kate to have a go through the emotional wringer. It starts sooner than you might think with a daring opening sequence set in a prison that is highly effective. And as deaths of people involved start to mount up, long buried secrets prove the key to finding the killer and saving the day. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)”

TV Review: Messiah 2: Vengeance Is Mine (2003)

Messiah 2: Vengeance Is Mine keeps the gruesome intensity of this series effectively and chillingly high

“For every wrong conviction we’ve made, an innocent person could die”

Following on from the success of the first series, Messiah 2: Vengeance Is Mine continues in the same vein though it does so with an original screenplay from Lizzie Mickery, who adapted Boris Starling’s novel first time around. And much like the first series of certain successful Scandi-dramas, it manages the transition away from a highly personal narrative for its leads into something (slightly) more general.

That’s not to say that the cases here aren’t intimately linked to the key investigating team of Red Medcalfe (Ken Stott), Kate Beauchamp (Frances Grey) and Duncan Warren (Neil Dudgeon) but there’s only so far you can drag a tortured soul so directly through the mire. A subplot featuring Red’s brother does it best but you can’t deny its effectiveness in mirroring the key themes here, humanising the conflicts. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah 2: Vengeance Is Mine (2003)”

TV Review: Messiah (2001)

The first series of Messiah only occasionally shows its age, mostly remaining a powerfully effective serial killer drama and franchise opener  

“Maybe we’re getting too bogged and missed the connection”

Whilst theatre is off the menu, at least to the extent that I used to consume it, I have enjoyed being in of an evening and watching a lot more TV than I have done for a long time. And seeking the comfort of nostalgia, I’ve been delving into some of the shows that I enjoyed in the past – this week’s fun and games is the Messiah series.

Based on Boris Starling’s highly successful debut novel, the first series of Messiah (well, two feature-length episodes) holds up well nearly 20 years after it aired. And you can see the influence it has had on shows like Luther and River to name just a couple, as its gritty realism aligns with this country’s obsession with serial killer serials. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah (2001)”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 2

“People died.
And now people are dying again and what the fuck are they doing about it”

Series 1 of Fortitude was one of those genuinely unexpected dramas which unveiled its genre-spanning ways with some proper jaw-dropping moments, so Sky Atlantic’s decision to commission a second series wasn’t entirely unexpected (though you do wonder what viewing figures are like over there). Though having revealed itself as a sci-fi/horror/psychological thriller/serial killer murder mystery with political and environmental themes thrown in for a good measure, creator Simon Donald was faced with a decision about which way to go to continue the story.

Or, as it turned out, he didn’t make the decision but rather decided to pursue them all once again. And as is proving a recurring theme with shows I’ve been catching up on (Fearless, The Halcyon), the desire to develop multi-stranded complex dramas falls short once again with the writing ending up serving a jack of all trades and master of none. There’s just so much going on in so many of the episodes that it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of exactly what is what, who knows what, who is doing what to whom, and where we are in any of the stories. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 2”

TV Review: Fortitude Season 2 Episode 1

“The reason we can’t find the head in the snow is that someone has taken it away”

Just a quickie for this as I’m way behind (the series premiered at the end of January). I only caught up with Fortitude’s first season over New Year and I have to say I kinda loved the way it went from interestingly good to genuine batshit wtfuckery. It wasn’t necessarily calling out for a second series though and from the evidence of the first episode, it’s not immediately clear that it’s strictly necessary, even if you throw Dennis Quaid and Michelle Fairley in there as a new family. 

A new crime has been committed hence layering in all sorts of new mystery but in a town where they’d previously boasted of never having had any crime, it kinda feels like overkill. And the writing feels caught between referencing previous events and starting completely anew, anthology-style, ie Luke Treadaway’s return for what appears to be a single episode versus the new Quaid/Fairley family unit. Sofie Gråbøl and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s chemistry as the first couple of Fortitude remains a thing of joy though (so is probably doomed) and I’m more than happy to give the show the benefit of the doubt, despite a slightly shaky start.