Based on the novel Suffer The Children by Adam Creed, this feature-length, one-off is a curious beast. It has a decent, top-line cast and some high production values. It’s also adapted by Unforgotten and Some Mother’s Son’s Chris Lang, so it has very decent pedigree on both sides of the camera. So what’s it doing marooned out on ITV Encore?
NB: Spoilers inside
So we have Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demon, Monroe) playing DI Will Wagstaffe, an attractive man who more than fills a brief we’ve grown to know so well over the years – the tortured detective. He’s angry, he’s myopic and brilliant, and respected by his colleagues. He’s also tormented by the murder of his parents and is prone to fits of anger. Like he asked his on/off girlfriend (played by Miranda Raison) deep into the story, what if this is it for him? What if he’s defined by the murder of his parents for the rest of his life? The fact that the date where he’s lived longer without his parents than he lived with him If that makes sense) has now come and gone is weighing especially on his mind. His sister (played by Charlotte Riley) and young son have come to stay. She says she thought he was on holiday. He thinks differently – she has a boyfriend who is ‘the nicest man in the world if he’s not had a drink’. You get the inference there.
But there is a case to solve, and it’s a grisly one. A man arrested but subsequently not convicted for child sexual offences has been taken out, well and truly. He’s been tied to a table, force fed a bottle of whiskey, had his genitals lopped off, his eyes gouged out and his balls stuff into the sockets. And they still ask the cause of death…
Wagstaffe and his team begin doing the rounds and, as ever in these sorts of procedurals, information is drip-fed from suspect to suspect until a picture begins to emerge: there has been a string of cases where suspected sexual offenders have got off Scott-free, because the families of the survivors have pulled out at the last minute. It all points to some sort of vigilante conspiracy, involving some members of the force. Some members Wagstaffe knows very well.
Dark Heart really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before – it’s solid procedural with attractive people swanning around the capital. But what makes a difference here is that it’s a two-hour film, and it feels like an uninterrupted story with nice little cliffhangers dropped in every now and then, some pleasing acting and main character, despite being a bit Poundshop Luther, you grow to quite like. It’s just entertaining, well-paced and well put together. My gripes? Miranda Raison in scandalously underused and there’s a very annoying constant soft focus around the edges of the frame. Please stop this immediately.
We come back to my first question. Why on ITV Encore? This has the look of a main-channel ITV job, but I wonder if they were using the digital channel as a testing ground. After all, Wagstaffe still doesn’t know the identity of the killers of his parents, which would provide a full series with a neat, if hackneyed, underlying story arc. But while we ponder those things, in the meantime Dark Heart was very watchable and enjoyable, without offering anything new or groundbreaking.