Did we like it?
An excellent thriller that took the hackneyed vista of Heartbeat’s 60s propaganda of tranquil English country gardens and upturned a few of the paving stones to reveal a land where maggots feasted on the festering flesh of dead rats that have been poisoned by the asbestos interiors of crumbling tenements.
What was good about it?
• Martin Shaw as the ethically inflexible George Gently. The Met detective could have written the 10 Commandments in an earlier incarnation such was his devotion to what is right and just, yet Shaw gave him three-dimensions with his gruff, distrustful manner. And there was the neat twist at the very end when the beatific Gently benignly abused his power to prevent Bacchus’s transfer to the Met in order to keep him in the north east after Gently had taken the job as detective inspector.
• And Lee Ingleby as Gently’s sidekick John Bacchus after the veteran detective asks to be assigned to the north east to solve one last case. While Gently was a model of moral stoicism, Bacchus was a frenzy of outdated 60s attitudes (in favour of hanging, homophobia, evidence planting) yet still managed to be charismatic and engaging – and by the end Gently was beginning to change his less agreeable traits.
• While Bacchus also had an appealing imagination whether in descriptive language (“You were seen in an embarrassing situation with Billy Lister, who was later found with his brains dripping down a dry stone wall”), or in deceiving the unrepentant Webster that when he tortured and murdered Lawrie Elton, he was in fact killing his long lost son.
• And nobody can play bastards quite as well as Phil Davis, a man who can express hateful fury simply by widening his mouth. Davis played Joe Webster, the London gangster who had arranged the assassination of Gently’s beloved wife Isabella, and while he was hardly in it for the first hour his menace lingered over proceedings like a poisonous spider suspended above her web.
• But once Webster was let loose on the unassuming inhabitants of the north east, he was malice personified. Firstly, he tortured (with his trademark blowtorch) and murdered a young biker who was responsible for his son’s death; he then drowned a young waitress who had befriended his son; he would have executed the bar owner if Gently had not intervened; and finally elected to shove his blowtorch in the face of the man he blamed for turning his son “queer”, even as Bacchus and Gently were pointing guns at him.
• If this becomes a series, it was almost a shame that Webster was hanged as he could have been a worthy nemesis for Gently. Even more so, as the funniest line came during one of the most macabre moments as Webster prepared to execute the barman. “I’ve got kids,” wailed the barman. “Yeah? Well, I’m an orphan and it hasn’t done me any harm,” Webster sneered. “Face down!”
• But even the lugubrious Gently could deliver a sardonic one liner, especially to the uncultured Bacchus. “I don’t understand,” said Bacchus when Gently pointed out Webster’s first victim had no eyebrows. “What does it mean?” But instead of some Solomon-esque insight, Gently quipped: “It means he had no eyebrows when he died.”
• And when he and Bacchus were talking about the gay Billy, he said: “I wonder if some form of electro-shock therapy would work?” “Naah,” Bacchus replied, “They’ll still be queer at the end of it.” “I meant for you,” Gently retorted.
• In a thankful nod to 60s authenticity, everyone, including Gently and Bacchus smoked and not just the villains as in so many similar dramas.
What was bad about it?
• The scene about 40 minutes in when Gently looks out at the windswept coastline and weeps for his dead wife. It had already been established how much he cared for his late wife and this seemed like an artificial, unnecessary booster to the viewer’s memory.
• Even though Gently mentioned that the bar owner was still alive after Webster took him as a hostage this didn’t seem to be confirmed, and given the absence of mercy of Webster earlier when he was about to execute the bar owner it seems bewildering that he would then have let him go. Unless we missed something.