Reviewing true stories always makes me a bit uncomfortable. Who am I to critique the lives of people who have been the victims of such a terrible tragedy? But, when a true story is depicted on screen you have to remove emotion and view it as a piece of television drama. ITV’s Manhunt, which is co-written by Senior Investigating Officer Colin Sutton and veteran TV writer Ed Whitmore begins with a caption telling us ‘some names have changed and some situations changed for dramatic purposes.
The three-part drama which airs over three nights this week is based on Sutton’s own memoirs and focuses on the investigation of murders committed in and around London. This first episode focuses on the death of 22-year-old French girl Amélie Delagrange. She’s found dead on Twickenham Green. Sutton is brought in to lead the team investigating her death (she’s been bludgeoned with a hammer we’re led to believe). Martin Clunes, whose production company has made the series stars as Sutton and it’s quite the transformation. Sutton is straight-laced, suited and booted and a back to basics type copper. He’s not weighed down by the magnitude of the task in front of him and tackles everything systematically and pragmatically. His home life is ordinary. He’s happy at home with wife Louise and everything seems fine.
Only this week I droned on about how disappointed I was that the crime element of Luther was left in the foreground with writer Neil Cross preferring to spend more time having his wayward cop race across London to stop one ridiculous calamity after another. Whilst I appreciate Luther isn’t your bog standard crime drama it’s fair to say that Manhunt is the complete antithesis of this. Perhaps because this is based on the true story is pacing is slowed to a crawl as Sutton and his team comb through rivers, watch hours of CCTV and have discussions on their progress.
Whilst I like my crime drama to feel authentic, I really struggled with this first episode. Clunes plays Sutton well, but it’s clear that he’s a character who feels almost too real for television. It’s all quite mundane and uneventful. Calling a TV character ‘ordinary’ isn’t a bad thing, especially when much of the drama in recent memory has been incredibly heightened and over the top, but Sutton is quite a dull character and even although Clunes always has a warm presence on screen the character he’s portraying here doesn’t leave him with a great deal to do. He tells his team early on, “I’m more John Major than Churchill when it comes to speeches’ and I think that sums him up well, he’s not really that memorable or engaging and because the whole piece has him as the focus it feels a little flat.
This isn’t always the case. ITV have had great success with stories of this kind 2011’s Appropriate Adult was incredibly gripping as was 2012’s Mrs Biggs, but those worked because the central characters were really interesting. Here, there isn’t such an engaging character at the centre and while the police investigation has some feels by the book, there’s not much to be excited by or engaged with. As retelling’s of true stories go it does feel incredibly respectable to those involved, and I wouldn’t want it to feel overly sensationalized, but I needed a bit of injection of intrigue or excitement.
I feel I have to say this takes nothing away from the work of Sutton and his team it’s just that as a piece of scripted drama there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. Sutton was clearly good at his job, he just doesn’t make for a compelling central character that I want to spend the next three hours with.
Manhunt Continues Tomorrow night at 9.00pm and concludes Tuesday at 9.00pm on ITV.