So Bank Holiday Weekend is upon us and so what better time to start airing a new series of nostalgic detective drama Inspector George Gently a show in which our hero is constantly trying to get to grips with the constantly changing 1960s. Part of the reason seems to be that the year in the 1960s is constantly changing also with this week’s episode taking us to 1968 and focuses on the Northern soul scene in Newcastle. The opening scenes take place in The Carlton Club as we witness an all-nighter event run by local fish man Gary Watts (Craig Conway) who doesn’t understand the appeal of the music but likes the fact it makes him money. The night though doesn’t end well for Dolores Kenny (Pippa Bennett-Warner) as she is found dead by the roadside after attending the club with her friend Carol (Lenora Crichlow).
When Gently (Martin Shaw) and his assistant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) find the body the latter’s first thought is that Dolores is a prostitute as the body was found close to where men pick up ladies of the night. This presumption forms the basis of the episode as Delores is a black girl the murder case is treated differently by the police and her father Ambrose (Eamonn Walker) receives anonymous letters through the door telling him that she’s glad his daughter is dead. Wanting to find out whether the murder is racially motivated or not Gently sends Bacchus undercover to The Carlton where he meets Carol and starts to fall for her. Bacchus also discovers that the club DJ Charlie (Philip Correia) was dating Delores but she was also seeing his brother behind her back. Things take another turn when it is revealed that Delores was three months pregnant when she died which makes Gently believe that the motivation could’ve been one of jealousy however there are still protests about different races living in England both on his patch and in the country in general.
This latest George Gently instalment meshes together a lot of elements and hopes they work but ultimately the writers just don’t manage to pull it off. The attempt is that by putting the tolerant Gently as a head of the investigation he will be able to point out how stupid the prejudice towards the black people are. There was no explanation of why Gently was so willing to stick up for the Kenny family, other than he didn’t like to see people picked on, as Bacchus rightly points out he is so willing to believe everything Ambrose tells him even though most of what he tells him is false. The subplot where Bacchus falls in love with Carol is also meant to show us someone who starts to realise that the colour of someone’s skin doesn’t matter despite the feelings at the time for me though this story was riddled with clichés while the ambiguous ending of their romance didn’t feel right. While some inherently racist characters, such as the Watts’ father Bernie (John Bowler), felt like they needed to be part of the story I didn’t know why the intolerant B&B landlady Matilda (Maggie O’Neill) was introduced as her character really did nothing other than insinuate that she wanted all the immigrants to go back to their countries.
On the plus side George Gently does have one plus that being the screen presence of Martin Shaw, who my mum always refers to as the thinking woman’s bit of stuff, who portrays a full-rounded character in Gently somebody who always wants the right thing but realises that life’s not always that simple. His relationship with Bracchus is one we’ve seen in countless cop shows before, the cynical senior officer leading his more naïve charge through the world, but there is enough chemistry between Shaw and Ingleby to make it work. Being Human’s Lenora Critchlow also makes an impression as the forthright Carol who feels more like a real person than most of the secondary characters on display here as she is someone who hopes that one day she won’t be judged purely on the colour of her skin. Unfortunately there are plenty of characters that are simply stereotypes or are there to move the plot along and to that end don’t feel like they should realistically be part of the story. Talking of the story, the final reveal about what happened to Delores feels a bit flat after everything that’s come before it and I personally found it a slight let-down as I’d invested a lot of time in this particular conclusion.
I think Inspector George Gently has the association with the Bank Holiday because of its scenic Northern setting and the fact that it’s set in the past both elements that makes it instantly attract the Heartbeat crowd. I found though that this was a rather dark episode with a lot of people angry about something, usually race, and the usually calm Gently was also rattled by the hatred he saw on his patch. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy anything about the programme it’s just that the after ninety minutes I felt I deserved more from the conclusion than I actually got while I felt the theme of racism was clumsily handled throughout. There were enjoyable parts of Inspector George Gently which came both from the cast and the excellent Northern soul soundtrack which provided the majority of the highlights but I personally felt underwhelmed after sitting through ninety minutes of this drama and I just think that I deserved a better conclusion after investing all my time in watching it. I do feel though that there’s an audience for the show and millions of people will tune in to see Gently do his thing but I think this Bank Holiday I might just go for a nice walk instead.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly Follow Matt on Twitter