Messiah 4: The Harrowing, BBC1

by | Aug 30, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

Red Metcalfe investigates another chilling series of gruesome murders.

What to say if you didn’t like it

Perhaps the most overwrought self-important detective drama ever unleashed returns for another humdrum investigation embellished with gore and divine innuendo to conceal crippling flaws.

What was good about it?

• The acting is of a universally high standard from the peerless Ken Stott as Red Metcalfe, through Neil Dudgeon as the hapless Duncan and Helen McCrory as the

grieving Rachel, to new recruit Maxine Peake as Vickie Clarke, all of whom are backed up by an able supporting cast.

• The manner in which Red’s most instinctive detective work is economically characterised and contrasted with Duncan’s more methodical solutions. Accordingly, Vickie is shown displaying the same intuitive attributes as Red such as when she suspected there may be a link between the suicide of Isabel, the daughter of Red’s chief pathologist, and the murder of Catherine, the woman found in the van stung to death by bees.

• The imaginative ways the killer has devised to bump off his victims, from the aforementioned bees in van ploy, to fixing two lesbians together by gutting hooks and driving a fragment of flagstone through a priest’s chest.

• The literary nature of the killings, which followed the descent of the nine levels of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.

• Guessing the identity of the killer. The first law of thrillers dictates that the killer must appear in the first third to half of the drama. But we screwed up. Here’s how we got it wrong: Richard the lecturer or his wife Grace – both far too obvious (and Grace became victim five). Catherine’s father or mother – disappeared after their daughter was autopsied. Vickie – discounted as a crooked copper was the murderer in Messiah 2. Distraught father of Isabel, Jack – too aggressive in his determination to prove Richard murdered his daughter.

Our money was on innocuous assistant pathologist Tim Evans, because he may well have known Isabel and her death may have sent him on a quest of vengeance against all those responsible for her demise. Also, on three separate occasions he made remarks expressing either bafflement or horror at the killer’s actions to waft the scent of suspicion away from him. But we were wrong: it was Jack’s wife/Red’s colleague Rachel, the pathologist. Oh well.

What was bad about it?

• The incessant vexing mediaeval choral chanting which pipes up whenever anyone dies or any subtle inference leading to the identity of the killer is made.

• Messiah is a victim of its own success in that you know by now that whomever is brought in for questioning by Red’s team is almost certainly innocent.

• Duncan is too much like a blundering blunderbuss. Every single assumption or suspicion he intimates is the diametric opposite of the actual truth. He dismisses links between the deaths of Isabel and Catherine because “the crime scenes are different”;

offers the reason Catherine had the tape taken from her mouth was so the killer “could hear her scream”, which is immediately shot down by Vickie who suggests it was so the bees could enter her mouth.

• While the deaths are inventive, they are also a little too gruesome. The Italian restaurant owner was forced to eat “mud and excrement” to be contrary to his gluttony in life, while the two lesbians hooked together and left to dangle over a tunnel entrance was none too pleasant either.

• The murders performed in adherence to scripture was a little too derivative of 7even.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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