Saturday, 27 June 2015


Black Work: Sunday, STV

The Bank: Tuesday, BBC Two

Paul Whitelaw

Now firmly established as TV's foremost leading lady, Sheridan Smith can take her pick from the finest showroom vehicles. So one wonders what she saw in Black Work, which so far feels only marginally more distinguished than any number of pot-boiling crime dramas.

Perhaps all will become clear in the remaining episodes. Smith's instincts are usually worth trusting, so I'm willing to give it a chance.

She stars as Jo, a Yorkshire policewoman who finds herself trapped in a quagmire of guilt and suspicion when her detective husband, Ryan, is murdered. Prior to his demise, she and Ryan had grown apart, apparently due to his lengthy absences from home. Jo had even contemplated an affair with a colleague, although it seems their relationship developed no further than weekly meetings in a swimming pool car park.

But Ryan was harbouring a much darker secret. Turns out he wasn't teaching cop cadets in London for the last three years. Instead he was working undercover in pursuit of gun-runners. Killed in the line of duty, apparently his heroic efforts had finally toppled them. But why are the police acting so suspiciously regarding the details of his murder? And what of these whispers about rogue behaviour during his time undercover? There's only one thing for it: PC Jo must mount her own investigation.

A grieving, guilty wife exploring her dead husband's covert double life is an interesting premise, and so far Black Work succeeds in the traditional thriller sense of not knowing who to trust - although Jo and Ryan's superiors, played by Douglas Henshall and Geraldine James, could only be shiftier if they had handlebar moustaches to twirl.

With her tear-sodden face to the fore, Smith is typically convincing, as are the actors playing her children – the youngest is that unnaturally natural little girl from Our Zoo, which was also written by Black Work's Matt Charman. But I can't shake the nagging suspicion that it's just a middling, mechanical drama with an unusually strong cast. We'll see.

One of Black Work's nominal themes is our growing mistrust of the police. But they're probably still a notch above bankers, whose reputation currently flounders at an all-time low.

Cue The Bank, a new documentary series which, by following the staff at a high street branch of RBS-owned NatWest, aims to spotlight the human face of this maligned industry. But why? Though customers often vent their frustration at these footsoldiers, no one actually blames them for the financial crash. They didn't start the fire.

Sure enough, the staff are a sympathetic bunch doing their best under trying circumstances. Unlike their unaccountable paymasters, they haven't received a bonus in years.

They're also burdened with the hopeless task of rebuilding trust and reaching customer service targets. This seems to involve asking if customers are “extremely satisfied”, even if they return dissatisfied at a later date.

Though no one in the programme was judged unfairly, a serious lapse of taste occurred in the soundtrack department. The use of a whimsical jazz score was horribly at odds with the seriousness of the subject matter. It was more suited to a frothy doc about cat shampooing, not one involving people struggling with debt.

And call me a pie-eyed idealist if you will, but I'd much rather watch an uncompromising profile of the rapacious banking overlords responsible for destroying millions of lives. That will be with us soon, I'm sure.

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