CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Wallowing in grief, a bleak crime drama that lacks the ring of truth
The Light In The Hall
Our Flag Means Death
We are now living in the golden era of True Crime. All the other genres are out-dated — no one wants Great Detectives or Police Procedurals.
Every murder has to be investigated for a podcast or a magazine feature by a young amateur secretly hoping the format will be bought for millions by an online giant.
Since their sensational success in 2015 with Making A Murderer, about a gruesome killing at a U.S. scrap-yard, Netflix has commissioned dozens of True Crime docu-series. Titles include Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields; American Murder: The Family Next Door; Conversations With A Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes and The Sons Of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness.
The second mistake is to pretend this story of a missing teenager in West Wales is a True Crime story when it isn’t
Clearly, it’s not proper True Crime unless it has a colon in the middle of the title. That’s the first mistake made by The Light In The Hall (C4) — there’s no colon.
The second mistake is to pretend this story of a missing teenager in West Wales is a True Crime story when it isn’t. Alexandra Roach plays a local reporter called Cat, whose editor encourages her to investigate the death of her schoolfriend after the man jailed for the murder is freed.
In a bizarre voiceover at the start, like the opening of a podcast, Cat explains that as a journalist she always believed her job was to make up lies and betray trust. It took a True Crime case to teach her the meaning of ‘truth’.
That put my back right up. So did the improbable plot: if C4 are going to make a fictional True Crime drama, it ought at least to seem realistic.
Iwan Rheon plays Joe, convicted of the killing of teenager Ela, though her body was never found. He says he can’t remember harming her, and if there’s any evidence that he’s really guilty, no one has mentioned it.
Joanna Scanlan, as Sharon, is the only reason to waste a minute watching this disjointed mess. With just the anguish in her eyes, she conveys a woman who cannot rest until she knows what happened to her daughter
Despite his refusal to co-operate with police, Joe is let out of prison on condition that he goes nowhere near Ela’s family. Yet the probation service houses him in a hostel just up the road from Ela’s distraught mum, Sharon.
Joanna Scanlan, as Sharon, is the only reason to waste a minute watching this disjointed mess. With just the anguish in her eyes, she conveys a woman who cannot rest until she knows what happened to her daughter. Ela seems to be constantly floating on the edge of her vision, preventing her from taking any pleasure from life, not even the approaching wedding of her other daughter, Greta.
The script clumsily emphasises this burden of grief with a funeral service for Sharon’s dead moggie. Even the pet gets a burial, which is more than her daughter ever had. But Scanlan makes the best of it, with a strong show of silent emotion. I will remember her performance long after I’ve forgotten the story.
A classy cast is the best reason to stick with Our Flag Means Death (BBC2), Hollywood director Taika Waititi’s hit-and-miss sitcom about a squeamish pirate captain on the high seas. Rhys Darby is the limp rag of an 18th- century aristocrat, bullied at school, who embarks on a manly life of pillage and looting. ‘My name’s Stede,’ he announces to a puzzled fisherman, ‘I’ll be your robber today.’
Desperate for his crew’s friendship, he reads them bedtime stories. Naturally, they stage a mutiny.
Rory Kinnear has a marvellous cameo as a British naval commander and pirate hunter, and Joel Fry is the ship’s minstrel.Most of the gags splutter and misfire, but the basic idea has lots of potential, if the comedy gets some wind in its sails.
Nifty trick of the night: In Austin, Texas, gray foxes were showing off their superpower on Dogs In The Wild: Meet The Family (BBC1). With their double-jointed front legs and retractable claws, they can climb trees. If only British pooches could do that, no squirrel would be safe again.
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