Opinions vary on ITV1’s current season of two-part blockbuster dramas, one view being that they’ve taken the quick and easy route, grabbing attention with high-profile subjects then failing to back them up with believable plots and characters. This week, though, they went for something undeniably solid from two of the safest pairs of hands in the business, writer/producer Lynda La Plante and star Amanda Burton.
The Commander certainly wasn’t ground-breaking; its basic setup – female senior police officer fighting not just criminals but chauvinist male officers in her own force – goes right back to La Plante’s 1991 hit, Prime Suspect. In fact its prime suspect, a superficially charming man suspected of brutally murdering young women, went right back to the first Prime Suspect, too. That might seem a bit suspicious, but there were enough new angles and twists (not least the Commander sleeping with him) to make the drama more than just a rehash, although not by a huge margin.
Much the same could be said of Burton’s performance as the newly-promoted Commander Clare Blake. Best known as tediously po-faced forensic pathologist Sam Ryan in Silent Witness, she initially lightened up a bit in this, but the old aura of dull self-importance was soon back. It wasn’t inappropriate for a police commander, but it wasn’t a new departure for Burton either.
The film was, nevertheless, pretty good stuff, with a sharp script, two good central plots and plenty of suspense. There was some novel characterisation, including an odd bunch of semi-retired CID lags who acted as Blake’s semi-official support group. Hugh Bonneville was bafflingly smooth as the supposedly-reformed lifer who bedded her, and while Matthew Marsh hammed it up a bit as the nasty DCI who wanted her out, he also projected his character’s entrenched, menacing resentment very effectively. The ending was scary (though no surprise to anyone with 1991-vintage memories), and if the fishing for a sequel was a bit obvious (lots of unfinished business and Blake given another chance to prove herself), well that’s showbiz.
In promotional interviews for The Commander, Burton talked about doing her first “steamy” scenes for 20 years. In the event, she had sex like the more demure Sex In The City girls do – with her underwear on. It made the pre-show teasing seem rather pathetic, and drew yet more comparisons with Prime Suspect, whose star, Helen Mirren, would either have done sex scenes properly or not at all, and if she had, would have used the occasion to make her portrayal of a chain-smoking, hard-voiced career woman even more intense. But then Mirren is one of the greatest actors of her generation, and Prime Suspect was one of the great milestones in TV drama. The Commander and its star were good, but not in the same league.
Monday 27 March 2006
Did we like it?
We didn’t waste too much time realising this was garbage, aborting our brave attempt to watch an ITV two-parter within half an hour.
What was good about it?
It may have got good – but we doubt it.
What was bad about it?
• Lynda La Plante used to deliver some of the best drama on TV. Not any more.
• Amanda Burton is so unlikable. We’re not quite sure why. She just is. So we couldn’t engage with her latest character, Commander Clare Blake.
• The clichés: unrealistic dancing in a nightclub, spiked drinks, pouring rain, scary madman etc.