Hi folks and welcome to another look back at a week in TV as I focus on a number of rather gloomy dramas as well as a shocking twist.
We start with a drama that focuses on a tragedy but has somewhat of an uplifting conclusion in the real-life one-off film Damilola – Our Loved Boy. As the title would suggest the drama focuses on the murder of ten-year-old Damilola Taylor who was stabbed in cold blood on the streets of Peckham. Following the incident the Taylor family sought justice but the journey to convicting Damilola’s killers took years to happen as the original court case was thrown out. I feel it would’ve been easy for screenwriter Levi David Addai to present a rather linear telling of the story of the arrest of the youngster’s killers but instead this was the story of the Taylor family and how Damilola’s death affected them. The first thirty minutes of the drama focused on the Taylor family coming to the UK from Nigeria in order for daughter Gbemi (Juma Sharkah) to have treatment for her epilepsy. With father Richard (Babou Ceesay) staying in Nigeria it was up to oldest son Tunde (Juwon Adedokun) to look after his mother Gloria (Wunmi Mousaka) and his sister. What I didn’t realise is that Damilola (Sammy Kamara) wasn’t originally intended to go to London however he later convinced his father to let him go with the rest of the family. Although I knew what was coming it was great to spend some time with the Taylor family before Damilola’s tragic murder. Richard only arrived in the UK following the tragedy and tried to get his head around the events that had occurred. Throughout the drama Addai presented Richard as a proud man who initially had faith in the justice system that was until the first trial was thrown out of court. Then we simply saw him drifting; blaming Tunde for not looking after the family and trying his best to drum some discipline into the youths on the estate. At the same time his relationship with his family suffered and eventually Tunde moved out of the house due to tensions with his father. However Addai did make the decision to end things on a positive note namely having the family reunite at Tunde’s graduation and later see justice done for Damilola with his killers being convicted for manslaughter.
When presenting a drama about the death of a child it would be so easy to present the family in a completely positive light as they banded together to deal with the death. When reading the synopsis for Damilola – Our Loved Boy I was expecting something similar to Reg or A Song for Jenny both of which I wasn’t particularly enamoured with. What Addai did differently was to present the Taylor family and in particular Richard as a relatable characters who didn’t particularly know how to react when Damilola was killed. The scenes I loved the most in the drama was seeing Richard attempt to drum some sense into the disobedient youths of the area instead of focusing on his own children who were drifting away from him. This presentation of a man who was ultimately trying to do something good but at the same time neglecting the people who needed him the most created the tension that was lacking other recent real life dramas that have aired on BBC One. In fact these tensions were more important to the plot than the actual investigation a lot of which was conducted off screen presumably as we already know a lot of these facts from news reports. The performances in Damilola – Our Loved Boy also deserve praise as they were universally excellent. Babou Ceesay gave a brilliantly measured performance as a man who thought he had lost everything but couldn’t see what was right in front of him. Ceesay’s best moment came when he admitted everything he’d done wrong in front of his family and how he regretted not being there for the family. Wunmi Mousaka was similarly excellent as the matriarch desperately trying to pull her family together and trying to cope without Richard by her side when they first got to the UK. For the time he was on screen I felt young Sammy Kamara was excellent as Damilola himself, as he portrayed the youngster as someone who was enthusiastic and full of life. As a whole all five of the central actors had great chemistry and made it easy for you to believe in them as a family especially when they struggled to get over Damilola’s murder. I personally would’ve liked the drama to be a little bit longer as I found certain parts of the story were rushed but as a telling of a family’s grief and their struggles to survive a tragedy I thought Damilola – Our Loved Boy did its job superbly.
More drama was provided by the BBC thanks to the return to TV of Stephen Poliakoff and the first episode of his new seven part drama Close to the Enemy. Set in a post-war London, Close to the Enemy stars Jim Sturgess as intelligence officer Callum Ferguson who is given one last mission. Before you start thinking that Close to the Enemy is some sort of exciting espionage thriller Callum’s mission involves keeping a close eye on German scientist Dieter Kohler (August Diehl) which for the most part involves babysitting his daughter Lotte (Lucy Ward). The majority of Close to the Enemy takes part in a rather dingy hotel which is attempting to function despite the kitchen running on rations and a lot of the rooms in ill repute. Close to the Enemy’s hotel setting makes it feel similar to Polikaoff’s last TV outing Dancing on the Edge with this new series also featuring a jazz band fronted by the sassy Eva (Angela Bassett). Despite attempts to work undetected Callum is thwarted from all sides with a particular thorn in his side being Kathy Griffiths (Phoebe Fox) who works for the war crimes unit and wonders if Dieter should be prosecuted rather than being wined and dined. There are also suspicious looks coming from all directions in the hotel most notably from Harold Lindsay-Jones (Alfred Molina) a mysterious guest who may not be all he seems. I do find Poliakoff to be an interesting writer and his dramas are always worth investigating even if they ultimately turn out to be a little hollow. Close to the Enemy was definitely an odd drama which tried to do something different with the spy drama by setting it just after the close of World War II. One thing I thought this first episode did was establish a good sense of place with the eerie hotel being a great centre of the action. There were also some fine performances most notably from Phoebe Fox as the chippy war crimes representative and the always brilliant Alfred Molina as the slightly dodgy Lindsay-Jones. Unfortunately for the most part I failed to connect with Close to the Enemy primarily as I never found Callum to be that compelling a lead and also found there to be far too many character introductions for me to care about anyone. Obviously with six more episodes to go, I understand that Poliakoff has six more episodes to connect the dots but I feel that he should have done more to lure in the audience. As it was I thought Close to the Enemy was a fantastically designed drama with some fine supporting turns but one that I found to be quite empty and as a result I won’t be sticking with it.
One drama I surprised I stuck with till the bitter end was Dark Heart; a one-off police procedural that most of you would’ve missed as it was nestled away on ITV encore. When I first learnt of the existence of Dark Heart I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it beforehand especially when I discovered that it was written by Chris Lang who last year brought us the excellent Unforgotten. It’s fair to say that Dark Heart isn’t in the same league as Unforgotten in fact I would actually add that I don’t the two police dramas are even playing the same game. Set over a weekend during a heatwave, Dark Heart’s hero is DI Will Wagstaffe (Tom Riley); an incredibly adept copper who is haunted by a family tragedy. As we learn early on, Will’s parents were both murdered sixteen years earlier during a family holiday and as the drama begins he’s finally about to track down their killers. Unfortunately Will gets stopped at the airport and dragged back to the station in order to investigate the murders of two men who were both charged with but not convicted for child sex abuse crimes. If you think that wasn’t dark enough the ways that they are murdered are astonishingly brutal and Dark Heart is certainly not a drama for the squeamish. But then again I’m not quite sure who Dark Heart is made for and I did wonder why it was commissioned at all if it was going to just stay on ITV Encore. To me it almost felt like a pilot for a Wagstaffe series as, after discovering the identity of the murder, our hero jetted off to Spain to finally try to solve his parents’ murder. However Wagstaffe wasn’t a particularly interesting character as he was the stereotypical damaged copper with a strained relationship with his family and an on/off relationship with Miranda Raison’s token love interest. I’ve always found Chris Lang to be a great storyteller but I didn’t find the story of Dark Heart to be that interesting or original. Whilst Tom Riley tried his best to make something of the character I didn’t feel Wagstaffe could hold his own if ITV Encore did commission a full series of what can best be described as a revenge drama. My abiding feeling though is that if ITV did have faith in Dark Heart then it would’ve debuted on the main channel rather than being under-promoted and hidden away on Encore.
Despite Dark Heart and Close to the Enemy both being quite underwhelming there was one drama that stood out this week that was the fifth episode of The Missing. We’ve not really talking about The Missing on the site since its debut but I’ve personally been engrossed with the series throughout with this Wednesday’s episode being noteworthy due to the final twist. After weeks of bobbing around the 2014 and 2016 timelines trying to work out if the girl who came back was Alice Webster or Sophie Giroux, writers Jack and Harry Williams finally started to deliver answers. In the final scenes we learnt that the previously secondary character of press officer Adam Gettrick (Derek Riddell) had at least some sort of involvement in the disappearance of Alice, Sophie and a third girl Lena Garber. Unfortunately this discovery was made too late for lovely German detective Lenhart who was promptly finished off by Gettrick with the use of an electric drill. Although the Williams have seemingly blown their reveal three episodes two early there are certainly a lot more questions left than answers with plenty of dots left to connect. I’m honestly intrigued by what Brigadier Stone (Roger Allam) knows about the disappearance and how it links to what he and Henry Reed did in Iraq. Talking of Iraq, a recently returned Julien (Tcheky Karyo) will presumably be discovering Gettrick’s guilt from another angle however this time he has no help from Lenhart. What I’ve loved about this series of The Missing is how it’s not just a whodunnit like the first series as there have been plenty of periphery plots to keep us interested. From the affair between Eve Stone and Sam Webster (Laura Fraser and David Morrissey) to whether Julien will get the surgery he needs to remove his brain tumour. The series has also looked fantastic thanks to Ben Chanan’s assured direction which has plunged us straight into the action including in episode five’s final pivotal scene which in my opinion changed everything. Unlike many of the other dramas that I’ve discussed this week, The Missing has characters you care about and a plot that grips for you the entire hour that each episode airs. I’m utterly intrigued by what’s going to happen on The Missing next and unless the Williams brothers really mess up the ending there’s a strong possibility that this may end up being my drama of the year.
That’s it for now folks remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I’ll speak to you next time.