REVIEW The Pembrokeshire Murders (S1 E2/3)

It’s been an unexpectedly busy week, so I’ve only just got around to watching and reviewing episodes two and three of ITV’s latest true-crime adaptation, The Pembrokeshire Murders.

DCI Steve Wilkins (played by Luke Evans) is a returning hotshot detective who decides to reopen a double-homicide case from the 1980s. We’ve seen so many true-crime adaptations in recent months (not least from ITV), so I was interested to see what the wrinkle was here. It turned out that it was all about the race against time to find the evidence – now easier to find because of enhanced forensics techniques – to convict John Cooper, prime suspect and already in jail for burglary and other offences.

Wilkins and his team had sift through existing physical evidence and choose which items to process to give them the greatest chance of conviction. They only had a limited budget to work with, and his team (Ottawa), had to be discerning.

The was the wrinkle in this series and the first episode, while not a knock-out, was certainly intrguing and interesting (not least for portraying the effect that abuse and murder has on those closest to the perpetator).

In episode two, Wilkins and his team set up an interview with Cooper (Keith Allen) in prison. They had watched previous interrogations with him and found him a capricious and almost petty character – turning away from the interviewer in a sulk if he had been asked a wrong question. Instead of a tense one-on-one meeting between Wilkins and Cooper – something that Cooper had been craving because he had seen the detective on television talking about the case – Wilkins chose not to go in, leaving the interropgation to two colleagues, one female (Cooper hates women, apparently).

It was a clever approach and one that ultimately worked. The two interviewers expertly probed him asking him pointed questions about items of evidence they needed to determine whether to process for DNA. In the end they got themselves a new lead – a pair of swimming shorts he used to wear around the same time of the murders.

But there was one problem – even though they had a artist’s impression of the suspect, there were no photos of Cooper from the time. Until… Wilkins, who had accompanied his son to a football match and then onto their local pub, saw a picture on the wall of a darts team. There, in the back row, was Cooper. And, when Wilkins asked the landlord about the photo and about John Cooper, he was told that the suspect had appeared on TV, on a darts-based quiz show called Bullseye.

It was a surreal, random tangent for the investigation to take, but a crucial one. After examining the tapes of the primetime show, they saw Cooper and saw his image matching the artist’s impression.

Unfortunately for Wilkins and Ottawa, Cooper was released from jail, and in the final cliffhager looked set to murder again. This time his long-suffering wife, who he had manipuated callously throughout his time in the clink.

So where are we with The Pembrokeshire Murders? Again, it didn’t have me totally rapt, unlike something like Des. There seemed to be one too many cliches on show – from Wilkins’ neglect of his son and Allen’s almost caricature portrayal of John Cooper, to the actual framing of Cooper as he walked slowly down corridors and sneered in the back seat of cars.

This is why I hate reviewing true-crime adaptation. The families of the victims and the victims themselves should not be reviewed, nor should the heroic efforts of his team. It makes me feel bad to say that this, as a piece of drama, was merely average, but that is what we judge it on.

Still, there’s another episode to go and Wilkins has his hands full to bring the slippery Cooper to justice.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 3 out of 5.


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