The second part of this adaptation of Iain Banks’s penultimate novel needed to be better than the first. Of that there’s no doubt. I do have to put my hands up and admit that I got something wrong in my review of that first instalment – I said that episode hadn’t revealed why Stewart Gilmore (Christian Cooke) had been run out of Stonemouth, incurring the wrath of the town’s number one gang boss Don Murston (Peter Mullen on extreme gravel-voiced form). While Stewart was boffing one of his old school friends in the toilets at his friend’s wedding, I decided to go to the loo myself (for a wee, not a knee-trembler) and of course missed Big Don throwing him out of town. I just wanted to clear that up, especially one of my main criticisms was based on the fact that Stewart’s expulsion had never been properly explained. D’oh. Blame my chest infection. Anyway, now onto episode two.
It was the day of Callum’s funeral and Stewart, given a stay of execution by Powell and the dimwitted Murston brothers, was getting ready for his friend’s funeral. Conspiracies of murder pinged around his head as he was looked for some black socks in his dad’s chest of drawers. In the smalls drawer he found a stash of money. Confronting him, Stewart’s dad – the harbour master no less – admitted that he worked, on and off, for Mike, Stonemouth’s number two gang boss. This was a genuine surprise. Can you imagine finding out that your father, your beloved dad, doing a jobs for a drug smuggler?
The funeral passed without too much incident, even though Powell was just as menacing as in the first episode, warning Stewart to a) shut up with his murder conspiracies, and b) do not be seen with Ellie again, because if Don finds out he won’t be happy and the happiness of Don is all that he cares about. And with that sentence, the apprentice gave himself away as the killer, even though there were 50 minutes left in the episode.
Even armed with this theory, it was an episode that was better than the first, mainly because it cracked on at a fair old pace in the present and dispensed with the flashbacks and voiceovers. No more exposition, it was purely about Stewart solving the case right here, right now. And getting back with Ellie of course.
As they edged closer together, with Callum’s fate the common ground between the two, the former lovers formed a detective pairing, soon finding out that Callum had gone behind his dad’s back, got into bed with Mike (figuratively) and was operating his own drug smuggling racket.
In the end Powell was revealed as the killer, Stewart and Ellie got back together and everything was tied together in a neat and oh-so-predictable bow.
I didn’t hate Stonemouth, but neither did I love it. There were certainly good things about it – Peter Mullen is always worth a watch (even though he was almost a cartoon baddie here) and Brian Gleeson was terrific as Powell, the apprentice who only had love for his master. But even that love soon became warped as his own power in the town started to increase and obscure his thinking, and the more recognition and love he wanted and needed from Don the more he took risks.
And then there was Stonemouth itself, the picture-perfect town by the sea (Macduff in Aberdeenshire, apparently) where gangsters smuggle in drugs and all the youngsters are supermodel beautiful. It looked like something you’d see in a comfortable Sunday-night family drama, but instead it was a hotbed of sin, drugs smuggling and dry-stone walls.
For our episode one review of Stonemouth, go here