If there’s one thing that Manhunt is teaching us is that real-life police investigations rely on the smallest details. There are no CSI-style leaps here, just diligent, determined work that often looks as though it’s backing up into a cul-de-sac.
After last night’s opening episode, where DCI Colin Sutton was tasked with the case of a lifetime – investigating the murder of Amélie Delagrange in 2003, in southwest London – we were faced with a dramatisation of a true crime that still looms large in the British consciousness. Sutton (Martin Clunes) is a doughty, determined and unflashy copper – one commenter suggested there was a touch of David Jason’s Jack Frost about him – and facing a touch of insubordination and a lack of confidence from his team.
This was played up a little bit more in episode two – a few potshots were taken, especially when it came to his absolute conviction that the van caught partially on CCTV near to the scene of the crime was the best lead they had. Another angle played up tonight? His obsessive nature in cracking the case, especially when he went off to Spain to attend his brother-in-law’s wedding, then boarded the next flight back more or less as soon as he landed because there had been a (slight) break in the case. He was reading a book about the Yorkshire Ripper on the flight.
The character detail is needed – it provides a counterpoint to the exposition-heavy dialogue, and increases the emotional connection between viewer and character. It also establishes a well-worn trope in the cat-and-mouse subgenre – a person who is willing to forgo everything in the name of justice. Or is it ego, as Sutton’s wife suggested when she tried to convince him to ditch the case. Whatever it is, suddenly this has an extra dimension, one that adds tension.
With his team overworked and the wagons beginning to circle from all sides, a break in the case emerged – a WPC reminded Sutton she had taken a statement from a local woman who told her that one Levi Bellfield, a violent misogynist, lived in the area, owned a white van and had once been arrested for assault with hammer.
Light bulb time.
And it was really strange: Manhunt (and other true crime dramatisations) uses a different spin on the usual suspense model. We know the story, we know almost what’s going to happen, the dialogue is pure join-the-dots, but when a lead is discovered and Bellfield is seen onscreen for the first time you feel your blood quickening. When Sutton and his colleague DC Jo Brunt are tailing him and he gets away, the intensity is ramped up. All this means that this is – whatever you think of these kinds of dramatisations – it was well constructed.
And, of course, as soon as they start looking at Bellfield, some other cases start to pop up, including that of Milly Dowler in 2002. Now the man himself takes full priority – Sutton and Jo go to one of Bellfield’s previous residences (very) near to Millie’s last known sighting and Sutton visits the Surrey police and presents the case for Bellfield in Milly’s case. The case was being built, although inter-departmental politics suddenly came into play – Surrey don’t want Sutton poking around ‘their’ Milly Dowler case (this may be one of the more controversial revelations of this series). and, later, the investigating officer of the Marsha McDonnell murder also finds his nose out of joint.
We left episode two on a knife-edge – the News Of The World have gotten wind that Sutton has a suspect and intend to run a story, which adds a ticking clock element to the whole story.
The finale is tomorrow night.
TO READ OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW CLICK HERE