With Peter Manuel the prime suspect in the disappearance of Isabelle Cooke, Superintendent Muncie is astonished to see the psycho striding into his station. Manuel’s confident he can still talk his way out of anything; and without a body, Muncie has nothing to go on. Or does he? Muncie’s hoping that an associate, Joe Brannan, will inform on Manuel; but with Lanarkshire never looking bleaker, and the search turning up only the girl’s clothes, Hogmanay has already been comprehensively spoiled for the dour detective.
In Plain Sight has turned into a fascinating if predictable plod through the detail of the Manuel case. As Scotland’s most prolific murderer, Manuel has a place in history, but there’s something utterly banal about his crimes; essentially they’re just a series of petty thefts and assaults, except that something in his nature drives him to kill unnecessarily. (The dramatisation doesn’t even mention another crime attributed to Manuel, the killing of a taxi driver, perhaps for the sake of time, perhaps because it was never proved against him).
What comes out clearly from this largely factual account is that Manuel may never have been caught but for his narcissistic self-confidence, which was such that he even volunteered to help with the search for Isabelle Cooke.
What finally caught Manuel is that over Christmas he dodged his police tails and killed a family of three, the Smarts, in their beds. Though he left his usual trail of evidence, and relied on his family for an alibi, this time he made a mistake, stealing some easily traceable new banknotes.
With no motive or murder weapon, Muncie still can’t be sure of convicting Manuel, but WPC Laird’s interview serves to unnerve him, and Muncie finally goads him into a series of confessions. After a moody night scene of the disinterrment of Isabelle, inevitably Manuel is convicted and executed (one of the last men to be hanged in Barlinnie).
Not the gangster or criminal mastermind he imagined himself, merely a psychopath, Manuel can’t really be said to be a character of any great depth; neither can Muncie, a stolid cop but hardly a detective genius (though it must be said that the real Muncie solved all 50 of the murders he investigated in his 40-year career). But both Martin Compston and Dougie Henshall brought resonance to their characters.
There don’t seem to be any life lessons to be learned from In Plain Sight; workmanlike and solidly staged, it couldn’t help itself from fiddling with the facts (surely a WPC would not have been allowed to question a male suspect in the 50s?).
‘There is some comfort in the rarity of such terrible things’, as Muncie states; but surely ITV will already be searching for more such cases for our dubious entertainment.
For our episode one review, go here
For our episode two review, go here