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REVIEW Hollington Drive (S1 E1/4)

Starring Anna Maxwell-Martin and Rachael Stirling, and written and created by Sophie Petzal, Hollington Drive is a four-part series that plunges us into the realms of domestic noir; that sub-genre that features people who seemingly have everything, live in suburbia but all is not as it seems.

In this instance, Theresa (Maxwell-Martin) and Fraser (Rhashan Stone), and Helen (Stirling) and David (Peter Macdonald) seemingly live a perfect life on a street in an unnamed town. They live in gorgeous houses, have barbecues and chat about the latest smart watches.

Their perfect existence is, of course, merely a veneer. Scratch a bit deeper and the two sisters – Theresa and Helen – seem to have… not quite a rivalry but a complex relationship. Helen (with Stirling looking more like her brilliant mother, Diana Rigg, with each passing role) is the headmistress at the local school and is confident and socially forthright, while Theresa is edgy, and on tenterhooks.

In fact, it feels like she’s on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

When she reluctantly lets her young son and Helen’s daughter go out to the park during the barbecue, her nerves are twanged even more. Especially when they don’t come back after their allowed time, and especially when Theresa goes to the park they’re supposed to be at and doesn’t find them.

After a frantic drive, she locates them at the edge of a forest park, and notes that they quickly throw something into the bin while she approaches. Her suspicions are raised.

There’s more bad news – they soon find out that a neighbour’s son has gone missing. Did Theresa and Helen’s children have anything to do with it? Why were they acting so suspiciously? Could this be a nightmare she felt in her gut that would happen?

It’s classic noir. Theresa is plunged into a world of suspicion and paranoia, and soon she’s watching her son like a hawk.

More revelations surface throughout the episode. Helen is having an affair with the missing child’s father, there are suspicions of abuse by the missing child’s parents, and Theresa, it’s revealed, is the survivor of rape. The result of the assault was young Ben, and she has always been worried that he carries within him the violence that his unknown father possessed (quite Happy Valley, that).

If all this seems ridiculous and far-fetched, it’s because it is. However, when you place all of these elements into the context of an intriguing domestic noir that supplies expertly dropped twists at regular intervals, it all makes sense. Kind of. But my goodness, this first episode really needed them because it was already starting to drift, and with characters you couldn’t get a hold on or like very much.

And this is always a by-product of domestic noir – how much can you possibly care about someone who lives such a comfortable life and in such comfortable surroundings.

This episode was very much a scene-setter, but Theresa’s edginess (Maxwell-Martin again in tip-top form) did rub off on the viewer and there was a pleasing low-key tension bubbling away in the background . Missing children? Your own child a potential monster? It’s the stuff of nightmares.

We’ll see how this one goes.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 3 out of 5.

ITV announces Hollington Drive and confirms cast

Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Rhashan Stone, Peter McDonald, Ken Nwosu, Jonas Armstrong and Jodie McNee to star in Hollington Drive

Martin and Stirling – who starred together in The Bletchley Circle – will play sisters in a new four-part thriller from acclaimed screenwriter Sophie Petzal.

The sisters appear close and their families enjoy spending time together. We open on a warm, balmy evening, barbecue sizzling on the patio, the perfect family setting. The atmosphere is chilled, as they lounge in Theresa and Fraser’s perfectly manicured garden. Apart from Fraser’s brother Eddie winding everyone up, there’s hardly a hint of tension, but this is the calm before the storm.

When Theresa’s ten-year-old son, Ben asks to play in the nearby park with his cousin Eva, the adults begin to niggle. Fraser is relaxed and is fine for them to go, but this doesn’t help Theresa’s fears of foreboding and growing feelings of anxiety. 

As expected the children don’t return on time, and Theresa goes in search. Her suspicions are heightened when she finds the children on the edge of a woodland area and they appear to be fighting. Immediately her instincts tell her something terrible has happened. 

The series has begun filming in Wales.

Rachael Stirling joins Wild Bill cast

A few weeks ago we brought you the unlikely news that Hollywood’s Rob Lowe would be starring in a new ITV police show based in Lincolnshire, called Wild Bill.

Now the cast around him is starting to fill out.

The Bletchley Circle’s Rachael Stirling, Angela Griffin, Tony Pitts and Bronwyn James have joined a show that tells the story of high-flying US cop Bill Hixon (Lowe), who is appointed Chief Constable of the East Lincolnshire Police Force. When he lands in Boston, Lincolnshire, with his 14-year-old daughter Kelsey in tow, he’s hoping they can flee their painful recent past. But this unfamiliar, unimpressed community will force Bill to question everything about himself and leave him asking whether it’s Boston that needs Bill, or Bill that needs Boston?

Rounding out the cast is Anjli Mohindra (who we’re seeing in Dark Heart at the moment) as Deputy Chief Constable Lydia Price, Steffan Rhodri as DS Alex Blair, Divian Ladwa as PC Drakes, Anthony Flanagan as PC Sean Cobley and Vicki Pepperdine as pathologist, Broadbent.

Looks as though Lowe is having fun up in Lincolnshire:

Look out for this next year.

REVIEW: The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (S3 E3/4)

The first two episodes of The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco really weren’t up to much and just about as by-the-numbers as you can possibly make a crime drama. And yet I still watch it – I like the amateur detective element, I like the idea that a group of women who were ace codebreakers during the war are now putting their skills to good use and solving crimes and, this being the mid-1950s, I love the period and the aesthetics and the sociopolitical ferment. So despite the pacing, construction of the narrative and the bargain-basement dialogue and budget, there’s just enough here for me to keep on keeping on.

Episode three was better. Not in leaps and bounds, but better. This time the theme was ‘women and their place’. We’ve seen in series like Mad Men that the life of a suburban housewife in 1950s America was a tricksy one – expected to stay at home and look after the kids while the husband worked all day to provide for them, their existence was one of status envy, hidden anxieties and bitchy get-togethers. Now, I’m not suggesting that this episode of TBC:SF was anywhere near as nuanced or as well written as Mad Men (it wasn’t) but some of these themes were explored.

None more so than the central mystery, which involved a married woman who Iris and Hailey knew from their Presidio days and who ended up dead, found in the middle of the road. The victim – Charlotte – liked a drink and was considered a loose cannon. The police thought it was suicide, but the Circle… well, you can guess what they thought (especially after they determined Charlotte was 10 miles away from home). The investigation continued in a very TBC:SF way: Iris and Hailey followed one lead and found some stuff out, Millie and Jean continued along another line of enquiry and found stuff out, and then the whole group occasionally got together to discuss what they had found out.

The first prime suspect was Charlotte’s husband, Howard, a meek, neat and mild man who fell in love with Charlotte because of her energy but grew to despise it. The Circle soon found that Charlotte had been in an illicit relationship with someone called J, and had been pilfering jewellery from the neighbourhood to keep up with the Joneses. A lead brought the Circle to a posh country club – where women were denied entry, naturally – and a meeting with J himself, an unpleasant lothario named James Crawford, ensued.

As ever in TBC:SF suspects were being built up and then knocked down again. But that theme just kept on coming – an old Presidio colleague of Iris and Hailey’s – Lydia – was the archetypal lady of leisure: she hosted cocktail parties, was all smiles, lipstick and conviviality on the outside but underneath this patina of perfection was a different story. Poor Lydia had a recent brush with mental illness. Iris, meanwhile, was fuming that Marcus was being posted to Vietnam and hadn’t told her about it (he also had the gall to demand that Iris stopped prying into these cases).

It’s still pretty average fare, but at least here, in episode three, there were things to grab a hold of.

Paul Hirons
@Son_Of_Ray

FOR OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW CLICK HERE

FOR OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW CLICK HERE

REVIEW: The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (S2 E1/4)

The first two series of The Bletchley Circle were based on a fun conceit: a group of women who forged a friendship and a bond during their time as codebreakers at Bletchley during the war reunited after realising that nothing quite lived up to the sense of importance and satisfaction of helping the country. And because of this, those four women Susan Gray (Anna Maxwell Martin), Millie (Rachael Stirling), Lucy (Sophie Rundle), and Jean McBrian (Julie Graham) provided plenty of good, old-fashioned amateur detective thrills if not from the Golden Age itself, pretty soon afterwards. (As regular readers will know, I’m all over anything set during the war or in the 1950s – I love the aesthetics, I love the period, I love it all.)

Yes, it was always by-the-numbers and you could pretty much guess what was going to happen next, but it was watchable and enjoyable. So it was with a muffled cheer I greeted the news that BBC and ITV joint venture, Britbox, had joined ITV in a co-pro to resurrect the series, this time setting it in San Francisco.

Things started off, though, back in the war. Maxwell Martin and Rundle have left the show, so the story focused on Graham and Stirling’s characters, Millie and Jean. We were introduced to Claire, a passionate young codebreaker who didn’t think too much of the Americans, so much so she withheld some information. Dobbed in by Millie, Jean had no choice but to fire her from Bletchley and banish her to Bristol. Unfortunately, Claire met a sticky end at her final function at Bletchley – a dance. She was found with her throat cut and her tongue cut out (which was revealed a bit later), with a symbol drawn onto her wrist.

Fast forward to 1956. Millie, now a nanny, and Jean, a librarian, suddenly found themselves bored and at a dead-end. That was when Millie saw the article in the newspaper – a killer had struck in San Francisco and the victim had the very same symbol scrawled upon her. Millie saw this as a way out of her dead-end job and inject some life back into her, well, life. The next trick was to persuade Jean.

Jean revealed that she had been in touch with a contemporary based in San Francisco during the war, at The Presidio, called Major Six. So off they went.

Now, once again everything was pretty much by-the-numbers and, frankly, a bit daft. It also looked… well, cheap. Some of the filters used during war scenes to make scenes and characters look 10 years younger were quite extraordinary. There was so much lens flare you’d imagine JJ Abrams frothing at the mouth if he ever saw this. And yet, you still kept watching.

Once they had set up shop in San Fran, Millie and Jean did what they did best – investigate and crack codes. They finally hooked up with Major Six – a jazz musician called Iris (Chrystal Balint) – who, in turn, recruited a young friend, Hailey Yarner (Chanelle Peloso). And do you know what? Iris and Hailey were carbon copies of Susan and Lucy: Iris had a husband and was beginning to get more involved in the case, and keeping secrets from him, while Hailey was a quirky slightly naive ball of energy. Exactly the same as the first two series.

There were also nods to jazz music, the start of civil rights protests and even the Beat generation, which did give it some social context and a bit of visual richness, but it felt so cheaply done it wasn’t a world that you felt you could totally immerse yourself in.

Paul Hirons
@Son_Of_Ray

ITV releases trailer for The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco

Earlier in June, we brought you news of a trailer for The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, and now UK broadcaster ITV has got in on the act.

Series one and two, if you remember, saw Julie Graham, Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling and Sophie Rundle form group of women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park during the second world war and, having now returned to civilian life, find themselves investigating murder cases which have the police stymied.

The spin-off series, San Francisco, sees Graham and Stirling return is set in 1956, three years after the events of the original series. Jean and Millie depart London for San Francisco to investigate the murder of a close friend. There they are joined by North American code-breakers Iris and Hailey who, like their British counterparts, find themselves undervalued and overlooked despite their indispensable contributions to the war effort. With renewed purpose, the code-breaking team will stay in San Francisco and continue to solve mysteries together in the Bay Area.

Graham and Stirling are joined by Crystal Balint, Chanelle Peloso, Jennifer Spence and Ben Cotton.

Here’s ITV’s trailer. Look out for it at the end of July.

The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco adds cast

One the least heralded but most enjoyable British crime dramas of recent years was ITV’s The Bletchley Circle, a period piece that starred Anna Maxwell-Martin, Julie Graham, Rachael Stirling and Sophie Rundle. It told the story of a group of ex-codebreakers who worked at Bletchley during the war and were now solving crimes in early 1950s Britain. We thought that series was a two and done, but news reaches us that it’ll be back for a second series and, what’s more, it’s off on its travels. Continue reading The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco adds cast