Category: BBC TV Series

Criminal Justice (BBC Season 2)

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Streaming on Acorn TV is a former series entitled Criminal Justice.  I tuned into Season 2, which ran five consecutive nights in October of 2009. It’s a series where the audience travels through an individual’s life from the beginning of the crime to final decision of the justice system.   It’s an interesting story that focuses on the victim, the individual who committed the crime, the results of that crime upon family members and acquaintances, the police investigation, the defense solicitor and barrister, and, of course, the individual on trial.

Season 2 focuses on a woman by the name of Juliet Miller (played by Maxine Peake), the wife of a successful barrister Joe Miller (played by Matthew Macfadyen).  In the opening scenes Juliet is the focus as a nervous and depressed individual sitting in a car who eventually returns home to take a shower.  Joe, on the other hand, has been trying to reach her by telephone multiple times but she ignores his calls.

Joe later comes home, obviously suspicious over his wife’s behavior.  She is sullen, nervous, forgetful, and avoids him. After dinner with their teenage daughter in the household, everyone retires to bed. Joe wants to initiate sex but Juliet pulls away. She leaves the bed to retrieve something (which I cannot tell you since it’s a spoiler) and then stops in the kitchen. Her thoughts turn toward the knives on the kitchen counter. She chooses three, lines them up, and picks the large six-inch wide blade and carries it back to bed.

After hiding the weapon under the pillow, Joe re-initiates the sexual encounter. Their daughter hears groaning noises from their bedroom and goes to investigate. As she peeks around the corner, her father is on her mother groaning but then rolls off with a knife sticking out of his belly.  Hence the crime has been committed, and the underlying causes of the tragedy take five episodes to unfold one by one until the final verdict.

It’s an interesting, albeit extremely slow unfolding story. If you like action, this is not the series for you. You witness prejudices and preconceived ideas among the police. Joe ends up in intensive care, while the investigation begins. Along comes the solicitor, with her own agenda to get her client off by immediately painting Joe as an evil abusive husband. She nurses a vindictive goal, while one police investigator wants to see justice served regardless of the circumstances since Juliet did stab him in the gut. Everyone has their opinion – everyone is emotionally affected by the case.

To discover the ins and outs of this emotional series and the outcome, you’ll have to watch it yourself. If I say anything further, I’ll be writing SPOILER all over this post. Frankly, be prepared to watch many minutes of silent brooding from the actors and painful reflection. You could probably chalk up an entire hour of merely watching the characters say nothing except crying and staring off into the distance. It will be a bore or you will be sucked into the emotional aspect of this story as the writers have obviously intended. Their goal is to drag you through the emotions of their characters.

Maxine Peake’s heart-wrenching performance deserved accolades, but you are quite torn between giving her sympathy or wishing that the United Kingdom still used hanging for punishment.  It was shocking to see she did not win an award but instead, Matthew MacFadyen won supporting actor at the British Academy Television Awards 2009.  His screen time is minimal, to say the least.

As far as Season 1 of Criminal Justice, I’ve yet to watch those episodes.  Frankly, I need to wind down after this slow and painful journey of Juliet Miller before I take on another British crime show.

 

Father Brown (BBC Series 2013-2017)

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Streaming on Netflix are years and years filled with Father Brown, and I’ve been overdosing on Catholicism in a predominantly Anglican country (thanks to Henry VIII).  Who knew England had so many Catholics sleuths solving murders and giving absolution?  Enter Father Brown, who baptizes, marries, and mostly buries the humans of their small country village because of the usual incompetent police force.  Mark Williams makes a fine priest and wears the collar well in this series.  He is never without his umbrella or his bicycle.

The Father is an odd sort of fellow who tells an occasional white lie for the greater good, steals evidence, enjoys his occasional glass of alcohol, has been known to go to the theater, and will read a few questionable books if it helps to solve a crime.  What is interesting about this series is that you are often brought into the confessional as he hears his parishioners confess their sins and sometimes in spite of the sin must keep it a secret.  Of course, it’s no secret to the audience.

What strikes me the most are the reminders that murderers are hung by the neck until dead. I find it somewhat disconcerting watching executions of humans so quickly bound, neck-tied with rope, a bag placed over the head, and the floor pulled from underneath their feet.  Justice served, as some would say, but if the good Father has his way, the soul is saved. The last hanging in the United Kingdom occurred in 1964, and since Father Brown isn’t quite in that era, the noose is still the preferred form of punishment.  However, a few get off with extenuating circumstances.

Nevertheless, the Father is quite the character, who has his sidekicks in criminal sleuthing that includes his secretary, Mrs. McCarthy, Lady Felicia the local upper class, and her chauffeur Sid Carter.  The police dislike the Father’s interference (as the series does go through a few different inspectors), but if it were not for the Father’s involvement, not a crime would be solved.

You may not like the religious inferences of confession and repentance in all of the episodes, however, there are more lofty ones such as the Father sacrificing his life to save another.  You may also hear quite a bit of Latin here and there being spoken over dead bodies.  Supposedly based on characters by G.K. Chesterton.  If you’re into reading the original plots, you can do so by purchasing his books on Amazon.

There are so many crime shows from the British, who obviously love to kill people on paper and write dastardly plots with twist and turns, that it is often hard to choose the most entertaining. From Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Grantchester, to Father Brown, plus others, there are plenty of period murder mysteries to keep you busy.  Father Brown is not the cream of the crop, but if you’ve binged on everything else, it fills the need for murders, graves, and mysteries.  There is no gore, but there is death.

 

Wallander (BBC 2008-2012 TV Series)

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 Stars:  Kenneth Branagh

For some reason, I have this morbid fascination with the complex male character.  Wallander feeds my need to crawl inside the male brain and watch a man driven by inward demons perform his difficult job of catching killers.

It is a BBC series, now streaming the first three seasons on Netflix, about a Swedish detective. (I have read there is to be a season four in 2014, but I’m having difficulty finding if it’s been released or filmed.)  The stories are violent, sometimes sick, as the intense detective searches for the answer.  However, it’s not always the search for the killer that is intriguing about this series. It’s more the character of Kurt Wallander, as he goes through life trying to find meaning for everything around him.

From a broken marriage, a dysfunctional relationship with his daughter, and a strained relationship with his father, it’s a good challenge for a psychologist.  As for my personal tastes, it holds the keys to great drama – an interesting story line to keep you guessing and a subplot of the main character’s life as it intertwines into his daily routine.

Putting aside the annoying ring tone on his telephone, it never seems to end getting him up at all hours of the night fetching him to the latest gruesome murder.  Set in Sweden with beautiful landscape, the stories are adaptations of novels by a Swedish author, Henning Mankell’s,  An impressive list of books are available on Amazon.

Frankly, I’m not too keen on violent murders. Be forewarned quite a few of these are not a pretty sight. Nevertheless, I found the series deeply intriguing because of the character. There is something about him that makes you empathize with his pain.  You see it, but he never articulates it.  His relationships are estranged, and sadly he realizes he is the way he is because of his vocation.  Not many crime series move me to tears, except one in particular in Season 2, “The Fifth Woman.”  The ending was a powerful climax to catching a serial killer and a breaking point for Wallander that was unprecedented.

Kenneth Branagh’s performance in this series is top notch.  With a long line of awards and other nominations for best actor, it’s quite obvious he makes this series the time worth watching. If you are looking for a great and intense crime series, you should microwave the popcorn and check this one out.

UPDATE 5-2016: Season 4 is now on PBS.  This is the last, as Wallender is about to face his biggest challenge.

Ripper Street (2013 BBC TV Series)

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London – As Dark as it Gets
Starring:  Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn, Adam Rothenberg 
 
I love London.  I’ve been there twice and could go back a thousand more times.  However, in all of my tours, I’ve yet to take the infamous Jack the Ripper walk at night to retrace his steps.  After watching this show, I can safely say, “I’ll pass.”

If you’re not into the dark side of humanity, the reality of the east side of London in the 19th century, along with debauchery, crime, and suffering pass on this one.  It takes a strong constitution to sit through this show and enjoy the stories.

Matthew MacFadyen (once are beloved Mr. Darcy) has dropped the aristocratic garb to become a detective (Inspector Edmund Reid) in the worse crime area of London called Whitechapel.  He plays the role well, along with the other characters in the story such as a detective (Sergeant Bennet Drake), an American doctor (Captain Homer Jackson), along with the brothel mistress and prostitute.

Be forewarned it can get pretty ugly.  If you cannot stomach body parties, mutilation, autopsies, and the like, you probably won’t care for it.  However, as far as grit and substance depicting the dark side of London the show does a fine job.  The episodes are not only about solving the gruesome crimes, but it also contains great subplots with each character.  Inspector Edmund Reid’s situation is quite heartbreaking.

If you’re interested, check out the show website. They have a great blog about the historical facts they use in the episodes, some of which are quite shocking.  OFFICIAL SITE 

Needless to say, the British once again triumph in their ability to bring good drama to the screen.  Though I did find some of the stories deeply disturbing, sometimes you need to go beyond the fairytale aristocratic life of London and cross the river to the horrible reality of poverty and crime.

This show is a real eye-opener between the separation of class in the Victorian era.

UPDATE 5/27/16 – The show had been cancelled and resurected.  I just finished binge watching Season 3 on Netflix, which sums it up as if it’s the last in the series.  However, low and behold, it was brought back to life.  Season 3 is extremely dark and emotional, which I won’t elaborate upon less I give spoilers.  It’s full of surprises that you won’t see coming in characters who have gone to the dark side because of greed.

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