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Thursday, 5 January 2017

Unforgotten: ITV's best crime drama

It's a new year and already the schedules are awash with crime dramas. Sherlock, Silent Witness, No Offence, Unforgotten, Death in Paradise and Endeavour all returned this week. That's one show a night revolving around a death, a police team or set in that world. The TV landscape is saturated with the genre, but in my view when they're good they make for some of the most memorable and exciting television.


Unforgotten launched to little fanfare back in October 2015. Penned by TV veteran Chris Lang, the series began like many before it with builders discovering a body in an old house they were working on. We'd seen that exact scene countless times over the years and coincidentally we'd seen it that same week when the BBC launched their god awful four-parter From Darkness. What set Unforgotten apart was the fact that it then splintered off to tell the stories of several seemingly unconnected people. In the beginning we were unsure who was who and what part they would play in the story. But one of these people was our murderer.

The other thing we loved about the first series where our lead investigators played by the always wonderful Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar. The pair had a wonderfully believable chemistry. Their characters were human and the antidote to most lead investigators we're normally presented with. DCI Cassie Stuart was an ordinary woman who lives a quiet life with her elderly father. She doesn't scream and shout when she wants 'results', she doesn't have a string of lovers, smoke heavily or hit the bottle when the case brings her down. DS Sunil 'Sunny' Khan  is a family man struggling to be heard in a family of girls but he's happy go lucky. It made such a refreshing change to see police in a drama who weren't damaged human beings. Most TV detectives either need a big slap or a good hug and Stuart and Khan where a breath of fresh air.

By the time the first series reached its conclusion it had become one of my favourite new shows of the year. I wasn't just invested in the crime element of the story but also really felt connected to each of the characters. It was a brilliantly acted, masterfully written and wonderfully understated drama and I loved it.


Fast forward to January 2017 and we're ready for a second series. Another building team find another body this time in an old suitcase in the River Lea. The beginning may be familiar but we've got another strong cast here with Mark Bonnar (Line of Duty, Catastrophe), Rosie Cavaliero (Prey), Adeel Akhtar (Utopia), Holly Aird (Waking the Dead).  We see Cassie investigate the body in the case only going to avoid Time Team Revisited on the TV whilst Sunny joins her to get a break from his bickering daughters. And so the seemingly unconnected stories begin.  We know of course that Lang's script will skillfully weave these peoples lives together as the investigation gathers pace. In the Cotswolds a mother meets her son for a post birthday drink whilst in London a nurse chats with a young cancer patient. In Brighton we meet barrister Colin Osborne (Mark Bonnar) who is in the process of adopting a little girl with his husband (Charlie Condou) As they walk round a supermarket Bonnar's character is approached by a young man. "I hope you all die of fucking aids, the kid too." There's also teacher Sara Mahmoud who is interviewing for a new position in a school that needs turning around. How do any of them link to the victim and why would one of them kill him? That is the main crux of this wonderful first episode.


The brilliance of Chris Lang's script means that all these intriguing stories sit alongside one another perfectly. There's uncertainty and confusion but each story is gets enough time to breathe meaning that the actual crime aspect to the story is secondary. Everything about Unforgotten is wonderfully understated and underplayed. It's a show that knows less is more. It doesn't rely on over the top moments, choosing instead to put the spotlight on its seemingly ordinary characters. These characters feel like real people you'd bump into on the street and nothing about their lives, at least in this opener leads you to believe they're capable of murder. When Cassie and Sunny eventually identify their victim you feel a sense of unease. One of these people is responsible for his brutal death. It's a fascinating idea to delve into the background of these characters. Each one seems to be a good place in their lives but when Cassie and Sunny knock on their doors they will transport them back to 1990 and the people they used to be.

Unforgotten is a show ITV should be very proud of. A great cast delivering a strong script, what more can we ask for? I have no doubt I'll be gripped for the next five weeks. Roll on Thursday eh!

Unforgotten Continues Thursday 9.00pm on ITV. 

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