DVD Review: Manhunt: Series 1, Blood, and London Kills, Series 1
This review will cover three newly released Acorn Media UK crime series, two British police procedurals and a Irish family tragedy.
Manhunt: Series 1
Based on the memoirs of the police officer at the center of this drama, Manhunt is a three-part series covering the hunt for a vicious criminal who attacks young women. Starring Martin Clunes as the lead investigator DCI Colin Sutton, Manhunt takes great pains to achieve factual accuracy. According to the special features, the legal issues connected to the fact that the characters are nearly all real people who are still living meant that special care had to be taken to make sure that the actions were as true to life as possible, with as little dramatic license as possible.
Manhunt strives to be as realistic as possible. The fictional tropes that populate many successful dramas, like the quirky genius sleuth, the charming master criminal, the gloriously sleazy defense lawyer, and other wonderful enhancements that I personally happen to love, are absent. In their places are a cast of dedicated professional police officers, all of whom are strong in their roles, particularly Clunes as a man just getting used to a leadership position, and who is convinced that the mystery will only be solved by painstaking drudgery. Thankfully, the shoe-leather investigating, where vast quantities of irrelevant information are sifted through in order to find a single useful clue, is never tedious. There’s no pulse-pounding suspense, but the slow yet steady pace propels the story forward in a way that’s always compelling.
Ironically, the weakest portions of the series are connected to a much-overused plot point– the strained home life. Perhaps everything regarding the Sutton household happened as it does in the series. Still, the well-worn trope of the “wife who wants her husband to work less” has a habit of flattening a character into a scold, and the fact that human lives may be on the line if the killer strikes again makes Mrs. Sutton’s demands for a vacation seem selfish, even if it’s completely understandable where she’s coming from with her requests. Also, the exact details of the Sutton family are a bit vague– some dialogue suggests that Louise Sutton (Claudie Blakely) is Colin’ second wife and stepmother to his daughter, but it’s not as clear as it could be. As the series winds down, there’s an implication the marriage has been badly strained, but there’s no conclusive scene to determine the state of the relationship. Perhaps the issue will be addressed in the second series.
Manhunt is a taut, extremely well-crafted narrative that makes the hard work and dedication that go into an investigation abundantly clear without ever letting realism descend into tedium.
What do you do when you think your father may have murdered your mother? In Blood, a troubled young woman seeks to find out the truth, though her investigation may shatter her relationship with her siblings and best friend.
Cat Hogan (Carolina Main) comes home to her grieving family to find her siblings emotional wrecks, and her father telling lie after lie.
The problem with the denouement is that it’s largely unconvincing. As I recently pointed out in my review of Top of the Lake: China Girl, a confession is not convincing when the speaker is known for being a liar. Even though we see the flashback scenes, the filter from which they are provided allows an aura of doubt to permeate them. When all one character does is lie, this supposedly neat, tidy ending which doesn’t answer a couple of questions connected to the behavior of other characters simply falls flat. Furthermore, the behavior of some of the characters doesn’t quite make sense. One would think that one character would make an effort to speak to another character, and another character’s violent actions seem to be largely motiveless. Too many of the critical plot points seem to be forced to reach an emotional crescendo.
Without providing too many spoilers, the whole of the final episode is not just flawed from a mystery perspective, but the thematic, moral, and suspense aspects are also seriously flawed. The ending seems to push an awkward theme of not following your conscience, and the actions of the perpetrator often don’t make logical sense when examined closely. Blood has some very fine acting, but a distorted moral compass, a largely pallid and depressing atmosphere, and some flawed plotting leave the production sadly lacking. The series could have been a sharp dark drama focusing on a character who might or might not be a master manipulator. Blood instead winds up being a maudlin exploration of well-trod situations and issues that is lost in its own fog of ethical fuzziness.
London Kills, Series 1
In this police procedural, a group of London detectives are tasked with solving the metropolis’ worst crimes. Hugo Speer stars as DI David Bradford, an investigator with deep anger issues, and who is trying to track down his long-missing wife.
It’s a competent show, with a good, solid cast, but it lacks that magical spark that makes it a delight rather than a diversion. Police procedurals get a lot of critical flack for being “formulaic,” but that term’s bandied about too readily. Columbo followed the same basic formula in the vast majority of its episodes, and managed to be consistently superb because of the talents of its lead Peter Falk, its guest stars, and some really inspired plot twists. On the early seasons of Law & Order, any scene could be turned into television gold with Jerry Orbach’s delivery of a dry, wry zinger. The combination of actor, character, and writing is what creates brilliant television, and no genre is inherently below another in terms of quality or originality. London Kills doesn’t suffer from subpar performances or scripts, but some carbon becomes coal, some carbon becomes graphite, and other carbon becomes diamonds. London Kills is perfectly fine television, but with some more focus, it could be brilliant.
The later episodes suffer a bit from Stop Acting Like An Idiot! Syndrome, where one of the detectives makes a series of really foolish decisions, all connected to a relationship with someone connected with a case. At times, the viewer may miss some dialogue for screaming at the television at that character, “Stop it! Think clearly!” The discerning viewer will see the major plot twist coming, because the idiocy has to happen in order to allow the plot to unfold as desired.
Only five episodes long, the first season of London Kills feels like an introduction to the series’ world, as the finale leaves several recurring mysteries unresolved and a major question mark hanging over the central character’s true nature.
Manhunt: Series 1
London Kills: Series 1