We’ve had Luther stripped over four nights on the BBC to kick-off the year (read our reviews here) and on Sky Atlantic, Escape To Dannemora is well worth a watch and has also been streamed in its entirety on Now TV. Now we have ITV’s big, New Year offering – and it’s a very different proposition to both of those aforementioned shows.
Manhunt is a three-part series (yes, stripped over the next three nights) and it’s a dramatisation of a harrowing, true crime story. A recent one. I have mixed feelings about these kinds of things. It’s been written by Ed Whitmore (who co-wrote another (very good) true crime dramatisation, Rillington Place), and stars Martin Clunes as DCI Colin Sutton, the man tasked with investigating the murder of Amélie Delagrange in 2000 in south London, and then subsequently, Milly Dowler, Marsha McDonnell and Kate Sheedy. They were headline-grabbing cases; heinous and heartbreaking.
You hope with true crime dramatisations that they’re made sensitively, care is taken ways and in no way exploitative. From an objective, pure drama standpoint, these sorts of projects can have their own constrictions: veer too far away from the story, and you’re accused of bending the truth and being disrespectful; stay too close and it almost becomes a documentary and a bit of a pointless exercise.
So I was interested to see the story Whitmore chose to tell here, and how he chose to tell it.
It was very much a straight-down-the-line procedural tale, picking up the story with the murder of Amélie on Twickenham Green in 2004. There were similarities to the murder of Marsha McDonnell a year before, but there was no concrete proof that these two crimes were linked. Brought in to investigate was DCI Colin Sutton who, by his own admission, is more ‘John Major than Churchill’ and this quiet, normal but extremely dogged man (he had previous with a few on his team) was determined to find the killer. Martin Clunes, always a likeable and versatile actor, played Sutton as quite a placid man, with a determined edge – when one of his team came to him to remonstrate about the amount of CCTV footage being pored over, he was steadfast; when he heard that the French authorities wanted him to tell Amélie’s parents the bad news, he put his foot down. And, because it’s a TV drama, there are a few character background elements thrown in too, for balance – he and his wife (an analyst within the Surrey police) were moving house and working through the kind of problems most married couples do.
And this is what was most impressive about this first episode: it had a very normal, non-sensationalist feel to it. Amélie was given the respect that she deserved, and the mundanity – and the frustration – of police work shone through. I still ask myself the same question when any dramatisation of any true crime story hits our screens – do we really need it? What is the ultimate point? And, of course, it’s all about the chase; the story behind the headlines. And with that in mind, Manhunt delivered with a very solid, well put-together and respectful telling of this grim and sad story.