REVIEW Sherwood (S1 E1/6)

Written by James Graham, Sherwood is a new, six-part primetime crime series on BBC One. When the channel announced it, along came with it a stellar ensemble cast – David Morrissey, Alun Armstrong, Lesley Manville, Joanne Froggatt, Perry Fitzpatrick, Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rusbrook, Robert Glenister… the list goes on. It fairly bursts with fantastic character actors from the world of British TV and film.

So already there’s a reason to watch it.

But what you take away from episode one is not just the sheer class of the cast (who are all, predictably and gratifyingly, excellent), but also the strong writing, the structure and the addictive whodunit nature of the plot.

The opening montage splices together real news footage from the violent and destructive miners’ strike of 1984 giving powerful context to this story. Ashfield, a mining town in Nottinghamshire, is a community that doesn’t forget easily. It’s like any other working-class British town, but there’s something that simmers below the surface – during the strike in the mid-1980s, the town was split between those who striked and those who did not, called ‘scabs’. The fault lines and mistrust linger to this day. No more so than with the character, Gary Jackson (Armstrong), a veteran from 1984 who calls people a ‘scab’ whenever he can. It might be near to 40 years past, but – as I mentioned earlier – the fault lines still exist.

Now, this is a murder mystery but the pleasing thing is that Sherwood takes its time to introduce us and for us to get to know the characters. We meet the Jackson family, which includes Julie (Manville) and her estranged sister Cathy, who lives on the same road with her wheezing husband Fred and their son, who’s ‘enjoying’ his last days of freedom before he gets sent down for a crime we still don’t know. The two families don’t get on.

We meet the ne’er do well Swallow family, and also the local-copper-made-good Ian St Clair (Morrissey).

It’s just nice to see a drama that takes its time – there’s no murder right at the start, and everything’s fairly linear… it’s proper, rich character drama with some wonderful acting and some wonderful lines (I particularly liked the “there’s somebody at the door” refrain by Julie… one for all you 80s kids out there). However, tragedy, ahem, strikes, the community when Gary is slain on the way back from the local miners’ welfare club thanks to an arrow to the chest (well, it is Nottinghamshire, and the show is called Sherwood, after all). By the time the murder happens (after around 30 minutes), I felt I really knew the characters, which is a rare treat indeed. The Ashfield presented to us here is one of great authenticity and depth – as normal as can be, with knotty relationships and people rubbing up against each other, but also people trying their best to live their lives despite a fractured identity (the miners’ strike really did have that effect on many, many communities in the Midlands and the north of England). There’s warmth, humour and emotion. In fact, Sherwood has a Happy Valley feel to it.

The murder brings St Clair back into contact with the community he left, and it’s a personal case. While looking at Gary’s case file, he finds that much of his arrest file (he was done for arson during the strikes) had been redacted by a Met police officer – DI Kevin Salisbury (Glenister) – who is sent back to Ashfield to help smooth things over.

It’s a tantalising prospect for what’s to come – an emotive social context, a murder mystery and a potential conspiracy.

Part two is tomorrow night, but this was a very strong start.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Sherwood is airing on BBC One in the UK, and is available to watch on BBC iPlayer

REVIEW We Own This City (S1 E1/6)

In a parallel universe somewhere, celebrated screenwriter David Simon is making a cosy crime drama series featuring hedgerows, a whodunit, perhaps a vicar or two and an amateur sleuth deep in the English countryside. Thankfully, we don’t deal in multiverses here at The Killing Times, and Simon has – in the here and now – teamed up once again with brilliant crime novelist George Pelecanos to return to his home city of Baltimore to tell a new intense, meaty and engrossing story.

It’s a nice touch that Sky Atlantic – the broadcaster here in the UK – chose to start this series in the same week that Simon’s masterpiece, The Wire (which he created with Ed Burns), celebrated its 20th anniversary.

And you can’t help comparing We Own This City – based on a non-fiction book by Justin Fenton – with The Wire. It’s a natural and honestly necessary thing to do. In my and many others’ eyes, The Wire is the best crime series ever made, and it’s a series is similarly revered by critics and viewers alike. So when you watch this first episode and it scratches that Wire-shaped itch, it’s not only a relief but also exciting because you know that if the rest of the series follows this trajectory it’s going to be another meaty treat.

So what have got here in We Own This City? We’re straight away introduced to Sergeant Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal), a wide-eyed, twitchy, intense head of Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force. To say Jenkins is an alpha male is a huge understatement – his chest is constantly puffed out and his voice carries. He’s loathsome, but he’s revered and, crucially, he makes arrests. In a city where the police force is seen to be – and has – consistently failed, high arrest rates make it and its local police chiefs and politicians look good. And high arrests keep people in jobs.

Already we’re into serious and timely subjects – how the police operate, why they do what they do, the difficulties they face, and the abuse of power they perpetrate. As ever with Simon, no issue is black and white. We see various sides of the argument here, each embodied by different characters. There’s civil rights lawyer Nicole Steele (British actress Wunmi Mosaku), who is constantly surprised to learn that certain members of the Baltimore PD have dozens of complaints against their name, so much so that 24 of them can no longer testify in court because they have committed perjury on the stand. And then we meet Daniel Hersl, one of the said officers, who is cruel, racist and brutal when it comes to stopping African-American citizens on the street.

To begin with, there are a lot of characters, a lot of talking and a lot of things to get used to. You have to pay attention – just like you had to in the early going in The Wire – and its documentary-like, almost expositionless approach can make things sometimes overwhelming.

However, a spate of drug deaths thanks to a toxic batch of heroin on the streets, starts to fuse together strands that seem to be initially disparate. Soon we’re into an undercover, Wire-like investigation, which sees officers stake out some of the city’s hotspots and characters. When they find a link back to the police, it takes a turn.

Soon, Jenkins (who we hadn’t since the early first act) – untouchable, or in his own words, “can’t fuck with Superman” – is, to his astonishment, hauled in. Why? We’ll soon find out but it feels like another bent copper scenario. However, We Own This City is no Line Of Duty – it has layers, it’s dense and meaty, the writing is as tight as a drum, it has intrigue aplenty and, well, it’s very similar to The Wire in feel and tone while at the same time telling its own story.

You can’t ask for better than that.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

We Own This City is broadcast on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK

REVIEW Y Golau (S1 E5/6)

After episode four’s escalation in drama – specifically, some key reveals right at the end of the instalment – I couldn’t wait to tuck into the penultimate episode to see where this story went next.

And yes, there was plenty of fall-out and a continuation of the story. But it went about it all in a very Y Golau sort of way – sensitively, non-sensationally and at its own pace.

And that is to be applauded. This series is staying true to itself not getting away from what it’s really about – grief, redemption and how people move on from trauma.

Both Sharon and Joe Pritchard are in the hospital after the latter saved the former from the fire at her home. Naturally, the family thought that Joe was responsible, despite Cat Donato’s testimony that she was with him and saw exactly what he had done. This was an interesting plot twist, insofar that the man who Sharon thinks killed her daughter

Is now a potential ally. This was always on the cards, especially now it looks increasingly likely that Joe did not kill Ela. We’ve seen this before, but it’s still an interesting counterpoint and an emotional table-turner for Sharon. It’s been handled well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these two become closer before the series is out (as long as Joe didn’t kill Ela, that is).

So we’re approaching whodunit territory here, especially by the end of the episode, where a number of suspects had been set-up.

But before that, we saw Shelley on the scene for the first time since Ela disappeared. Her little gatecrash at her father Wyn’s retirement party was already doing the rounds on local social media, but her focus was on Joe – brother and sister had some catching up to do. And certainly, her presence and re-emergence triggered some memories from Joe. Namely that Ela was still alive when he was approaching the caravan.

As for Wyn, he found himself in a world of deep do-do. Now revealed to be a historic abuser of his daughter, the question – from everyone, but certainly from Cat – was whether he had been responsible for more cases of abuse… namely Ela. The episode ended with a touching scene when he said goodbye to his dogs for the last time, gave Cat a ring (intimating that this object held the truth to the whole tale) and then shot himself in Nina Vaughan’s office.

With the final shot of the episode showing Vaughan’s daughter Izzy standing in the mirror looking at a scar on her body (after talking to her mother about the Joe Pritchard case), there’s something definitely going on there. And what about Caryn, revealed to be the phantom graffiti person in Cat’s apartment.

It’s set up perfectly for the finale.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.




Y Golau is shown on S4C and S4C Clic and BBC iPlayer