Sunday, 5 March 2017


A version of this article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 4 March 2017.



PRIME SUSPECT 1973: Thursday, STV

Never trust overbearingly friendly, helpful people. That’s the important public service message behind THE REPLACEMENT, an uncomfortably gripping psychological thriller about a successful Glasgow architect gradually being usurped by the mentally unstable woman hired to cover her maternity leave.

When Ellen (Morven Christie) becomes pregnant, she initially welcomes the ultra-capable and seemingly empathetic Paula (Vicky McClure) to the fold. Paula is a doting mother, or so she claims, but her interest in Ellen’s pregnancy is acutely inappropriate. She tries to not-so-subtly undermine her colleague with physically invasive behaviour and passive-aggressive advice.

Ellen gradually develops a dislike for her. She becomes suspicious of her motives. But is she merely in the grip of hormone-addled paranoia? Of course not. We’ve all seen Rosemary’s Baby.

Aside from a climactic death scene – which naturally sends Ellen into labour - writer/director Joe Ahearne avoids overt thriller flourishes in favour of a more insidious approach. It’s very effective.

Christie and McClure are both excellent, the latter in particular. She succeeds in portraying Paula’s manipulative clamour while appearing outwardly pleasant and self-effacing. A plausible monster.

The end, at last, is in sight for BROADCHURCH, the Cluedo-like whodunit that squandered the buzz of its first impressive, attention-grabbing series. Can this third and final outing atone for the redundant mess of series two?

Well, this new case involving a traumatised victim of sexual assault is sensitively handled and more or less divorced from the original storyline. So far at least, it’s a respectable piece of drama, seemingly based on careful research into rape crisis management. Well I never.

Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I hope it proves that writer Chris Chibnall – the journeyman tasked with ruling Doctor Who after the great Steven Moffat retires at Christmas – isn’t merely a hack who once caught lightning in a bottle.

Flushed with the success of Endeavour, ITV have taken the cynical – sorry, natural – step of producing a prequel to another one of their much-loved crime dramas.

Awash with rain and wistful recordings by Joe Cocker and Cat Stevens, PRIME SUSPECT 1973 charts the nascent career of Jane Tennison, originally played by Helen Mirren, as a young police constable entering a world mired in violence and murder.

Blandly earnest, she's nowhere near as interesting as the older Tennison, which is possibly why her creator Lynda La Plante left the project during pre-production. Even allowing for her youth, there's nothing to suggest that she's the same character. Why, it's almost as if ITV didn't have the nerve to launch a '70s-set cop show without tying it to the safety net of an established "brand".

However, it does a decent job of capturing the brown-upholstered fog of early 1970s Britain, without too much reliance on the self-conscious period signifiers common to other dramas of its type. There’s not a single spacehopper to be found.

While the twin discomforts of institutionalised sexism and police brutality are both present and politically incorrect, they don’t feel overcooked. Writer Glen Laker has a fairly convincing feel for the period.

Indeed, the sombre approach of the original Prime Suspect is successfully carried over into this surprisingly diverting piece of anti-nostalgia. 

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