No cape, no genius IQ… just classy Martin Clunes as a proper cop
Manhunt The Night Stalker
If there is any TV series that does a better job of re-enacting true crime than ITV’s Manhunt I do not know it, and would wish you to tell me of it. But I think we all know it doesn’t exist.
This is the second series written by Ed Whitmore as based on the memoirs of DCI Colin Sutton. The first, shown in 2019, dramatised the investigation that led to the capture of serial killer Levi Bellfield.
Here, it’s the hunt for the serial burglar and rapist who targeted elderly women in South East London, had been active since 1992, and now it’s 2009. Call for Sutton! Actually, this is exactly what the high-ups do, as the current investigation is getting nowhere and a ‘fresh eye’ might be what’s required.
Colin Sutton is played by Martin Clunes (above), brilliantly. Truly, a career best. Sutton is watchful and determined and occasionally drily funny
Sutton does not arrive with any dazzling superpowers. He does not bristle with genius like Holmes or Poirot, say. He does not wear a cape. He is, instead, a good, solid, stubbornly dogged copper who arrives with just an A4 hardbound notebook and the backpack that, from appearances, looks as if it could have been borrowed from Unforgotten’s Sunny. (Has anyone seen Sunny lately and did he have his backpack with him?)
This opened as it did not mean to go on – distressingly, with one of the first victims whimpering in her bedroom cupboard after an attack, as discovered by her daughter.
We later heard testimonies from women who had been raped (a hard watch; one was 89) but the opening was as explicit as this ever got, so it never felt exploitative, which is always the danger.
We also learned the modus operandi of the perpetrator: remove window pane, cut telephone wire, unscrew lightbulbs and leave in kitchen sink, line up the victim’s ornaments outside.
Who has been doing this for 17 years? Who? Right from the off the story-telling is so gripping you will desperately want to find out and you will itch to Google the outcome but don’t. (I didn’t. However, my self-discipline was sorely tested.)
Sutton is played by Martin Clunes, brilliantly. Truly, a career best. Sutton is watchful and determined and occasionally drily funny, yet you wouldn’t say he was charismatic but somehow, in Clunes’s hands, he is.
And if Sutton has a talent it’s in knowing what the police shouldn’t be focusing on, like all that DNA swabbing. A few scenes showed him at home with his lovely wife (Claudie Blakley) but this is overwhelmingly a police procedural.
It’s about the grunt work, the mounds of boring paperwork and the budget constraints.
There are moments of melodrama: a car chase, a chase on foot, a woman waking up to a noise downstairs. But mostly this is patient, unflashy, yet paced so skilfully it’s exciting.
The ATM. The carton of orange juice. The silver Zafira. That major surveillance operation, night after night (you’ll understand if you watched). It was also an affecting meditation on ageing, with Sutton’s retirement drawing near and, as the family liaison officer put it at the end: would the perpetrator have been caught sooner if the victims had been younger?
It was completely satisfying. But if you know of a TV series that does a better job… no, you don’t.
The Morse prequel, Endeavour, is now set in the 1970s and while it’s beloved by many I wish they’d spend less time on the mise-en-scene – flares, Chopper bikes – and more on the plot.
Young Morse is, of course, played by Shaun Evans (above), who is also starring in Vigil over on BBC1. Have I got this right? Vigil has been infiltrated by Russian assets
This week there were three murders connected to ‘blue films’ – ‘Blimey!’ as DCI Thursday (Roger Allam) put it – and it was partly set in a nudist colony, for no good reason whatsoever.
Perhaps the writer, Russell Lewis, wanted to challenge ITV’s props department with all those judiciously placed beach balls, fruit bowls and books.
He is certainly a cheeky writer. There are little in-jokes in every episode. The name of this episode’s window cleaner, Lee Timothy, is that of the main character from Confessions Of A Window Cleaner, more or less. (Timothy Lea).
One client of the taxi company is a Mr Benn of 52 Festive Avenue so it’s that Mr Benn, the one from our childhoods. There is some fun in this but otherwise Endeavour is laboured and plodding, plus Morse needs to cheer up.
He and Joan Thursday need their heads knocking together – as do James and Helen in All Creatures Great And Small – and this business of discovering that the killer is a character we’ve been asked to pay scant attention to for almost the full two hours feels like such a swizz.
Young Morse is, of course, played by Shaun Evans, who is also starring in Vigil over on BBC1. Have I got this right? Vigil has been infiltrated by Russian assets and Britain’s nuclear defence is under threat but still the investigation is primarily being led by DS Kirsten Longacre?
Has anyone thought to tell counter-terrorism in London yet? Did I get that right? Possibly not. It is spectacularly complicated after all. (Also, DS Longacre, with Britain’s security under threat, should you be taking the morning off to deliver a birthday present? I think not.)