Review: In The Dark (S1 E1/4), Tuesday 11th July, BBC1

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Here we go, then. Another new crime drama series on the BBC, but this one looks to have some pedigree about it, both in front of and behind the camera. We have an original (award-winning) crime writer, Mark Billingham, an award-winning screenwriter, Danny Brocklehurst, doing the adapting, and MyAnna Buring doing the acting. What could go wrong?

NB: Spoilers inside

Anyone worth their salt will know that Mark Billingham’s books mostly concentrate on his franchise detective, DI Tom Thorne, but he has struck out and written several stand-alones, two of which feature DI Helen Weeks and form the basis for this series of four episode.

There are differences between the novels and books. Those two Helen Weeks novels -In The Dark and Time Of Death – are swapped in terms of release chronology: the first, two-part story here is based on Time Of Death; the next based on In The Dark (which was published before In The Dark by some years). Time Of Death, which sees Helen go back to her hometown of Polesford in Warwickshire, with Thorne in tow. Here, Polesford is now based in Derbyshire, and there is no Tom Thorne – the decision has been made to thrust Helen Weeks front and centre, replacing Thorne with a romantic partner, DI Paul Hopkins (Ben Batt).

Time Of Death sees Helen go back to her hometown of Polesford in Warwickshire, with Thorne in tow. Here, Polesford is now based in Derbyshire, and there is no Tom Thorne – the decision has been made to thrust Helen Weeks front and centre, replacing Thorne with a romantic partner, DI Paul Hopkins (Ben Batt).

With Helen Weeks as the main character, screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst has surfed the zeitgeist a bit here, adding to the canon of female detectives that seems so prevalent these days (not a complaint at all, by the way).

So what kind of character is Helen Weeks? We first meet her as she’s chasing down a drug dealer in an alleyway in Manchester. She’s no-nonsense and determined, but her encounter with the criminal is cut short when she buckles in pain – she’s pregnant and she’s had a scare. Perhaps more revealing is her interaction with partner Paul, after she tells him she’s pregnant. He’s overjoyed; she’s less so. Again, she’s no nonsense (“Oh god, what have I done? I’m a copper. I can’t see myself in cafes with my tits out all day”) and reaches for a bottle of wine immediately. She’s full of doubt about being a mother for the first time.

When she sees a news report on the television – detailing the disappearance of two young girls in Polesford, and then later her old best friend’s husband is named prime suspect – she’s eager to get back there and be part of it. To support her friend (who she hasn’t spoken to or seen in 20 years or so), she says. Her superior says to stay away from the case and keep her beak out of it.

Perhaps she sees the case as an escape from the pregnancy news; something to sink her teeth into and forget about real life. Perhaps she sees her old teenage bedroom and hometown as a sanctuary. Perhaps both.

But of course, things don’t turn out that way. Of course, she can’t stay away from the case – what good detective could? And, as she becomes more stressed about her impending motherhood, secrets from the past emerge from the shadows. And Helen, it seems, has some secrets. She has to deal with her old friend Linda Bates and her accused husband and support them, which means the life she ditched and fled is coming back to meet her again with some force and speed.

As the her covert investigation continues, we also get to see the latest incarnation of pathologist Phil Hendricks, this time played by Matt King in an almost dandyish, Withnail And I sort of way. This might grate with viewers of Sky’s (superb) adaptations of Thorne novels Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat: Aidan Gillen’s portrayal of Hendricks was deliciously and menacingly ambiguous.

Still, we have it all here: there’s a female detective going back to her hometown to use a new case to help her face some long-buried secrets; we have a potential wrong prime suspect; we have some old-fashioned sleuthing; it hits the beats where it has to hit them; and we have a bit of a bombshell at the end of the episode. Out of nowhere, one of Helen’s male colleagues rocks up in Polseford unannounced, asking her the question, “so, is it mine?”

With all this in mind, In The Dark is certainly a by-the-numbers procedural. Which sounds like a criticism, but it actually isn’t because there are adult themes being explored here, as well as being a reassuringly solid and entertaining watch. Aside from the investigative element (which is addictive enough) there are scenes involving locals bitter at Helen for leaving town for the big, bad city (Helen and Paul’s interaction with ‘old friend’ Paula and Gavin is kind of funny and slightly excruciating); there’s also the local force (fronted by Ashley Walters’ DI Tim Cornish) who don’t like their patch being invaded by outsiders or their authority being questioned (there’s one great sequence where Jessica Gunning’s PC Sophie Carson has it out with Helen in the kitchen: “She tell you anything?” “Yeah she did actually, she knows where the other girl’s body is. They were in it together, some weird sexual thing. You know? After they killed them they shagged each other’s brains out.” “Look, professionally speaking, this is none of your business. One call, and I can have you thrown out of here.” “Right fine, but you just remember this: whatever that twat she’s married to

Aside from the investigative elements (which are addictive enough) there are scenes involving locals bitter at Helen for leaving town for the big, bad city (Helen and Paul’s interaction with ‘old friend’ Paula and Gavin is kind of funny and slightly excruciating); there’s also the local force (fronted by Ashley Walters’ DI Tim Cornish) who don’t like their patch being invaded by outsiders or their authority being questioned (there’s one great sequence where Jessica Gunning’s PC Sophie Carson has it out with Helen in the kitchen: “She tell you anything?” “Yeah she did actually, she knows where the other girl’s body is. They were in it together, some weird sexual thing. You know? After they killed them they shagged each other’s brains out.” “Look, professionally speaking, this is none of your business. One call, and I can have you thrown out of here.” “Right fine, but you just remember this: whatever that twat she’s married to has done, and it might be nothing, she has done nothing wrong.” “You sure about that?” “Yeah!” “Because you’re old school friends.” “No, because I’m good at my job.”); and there’s also some great interaction in the local pub with colourful characters with unreconstructed views on the world.

But most impressive of all is Buring’s performance as Helen Weeks. This is the first time Buring has truly carried a series, and she does it very well – she certainly looks the part and manages to strike that balance between toughness, humility and likability.

Paul Hirons
@Son_Of_Ray

For our interview with MyAnna Buring, go here

 

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