Scotland in 1955 can’t have been the most exciting place to live, so the career of serial killer Peter Manuel (Martin Compston) must have at least broken the monotony in the curtain-twitching community of Uddingston, Lanarkshire. About the only other action would have been at the local Tunnock’s biscuit factory, clearly advertised on the double-decker buses. But the monotony is about to be broken.
Nine years previously, Sergeant William Muncie (Douglas Henshall) had locked up cocky psycho Manuel for a series of attacks on women, and Manuel is set on revenge. So when he starts hanging around the now Detective Inspector Muncie’s home, then assaults a local girl after a party, it looks like Manuel is begging for a pegging, as they say around that way.
Coming with the kudos of Line of Duty at his back (LOD director John Strickland also features), authentically diminutive Martin Compston is a good bet for the cocky psychopath Manuel, and the inevitable Dougie Henshall as stolid William Muncie looks set to offer a suitably dogged and upright foil.
But as Manuel sets out on his campaign of reprisals, there’s a weary inevitability about the way in which he targets female victims – perhaps for once ITV could produce a drama which didn’t feature sex crimes against women. Just dressing it up as historical drama doesn’t make it any more palatable or less misogynistic.
Now, maybe we can argue that it’s valuable to examine the way sex crimes against women were dealt with in that time and place; but Manuel’s victims are treated with a consideration and compassion which doesn’t seem plausible. Also Muncie’s reliance on forensic science and on sexual psychology, premature ejaculation and all, seems remarkably advanced for the day.
The WPCs also seem to be depicted as remarkably prominent and opinionated for the time, though they do have the most extraordinary hairdos. Perhaps it’s a Scottish thing.
Manuel, who fancies himself as an American screen idol type (and was in fact born in the US, a fact which doesn’t come out in this dramatisation), derides James Dean when he reads about his funeral (from a paper which apparently doesn’t believe in apostrophes in its headlines). But his real study is Jury Trials. Having landed himself in an apparent open-and-shut case, maybe he can talk his way out of it on a technicality?
It’s hard to believe that a sex attacker can have been allowed to question his victim in open court, but we have to accept it happened, and Manuel uses his guile to demolish the witness. Acquitted, he left Muncie determined to see justice done.
Muncie’s feeling that Manuel is a fox in the hen-house doesn’t adequately sum up the threat he poses, and when a girl is found dead on a golf course, it looks like a campaign of terror has begun. But will it spread as far as Muncie’s own family? – we reckon it will, this being an ITV drama.
Time will tell how many other liberties In Plain Sight will take with the facts (Manuel’s fiancee, who dumped him on the night of the assault in this episode, seems to have been written out for instance).
The trailer for episode two shows Manuel getting hold of a gun – not the deadly Webley 38, but, as the subtitles have it, a Wembley 38. You can do a lot of damage with one of those. Or with a carefully aimed Tunnock’s Teacake.