News, Culture & Society

DEBORAH ROSS: Criminally bad! And Sanditon’s even worse


Netflix (Warning: a bit spoilery)



Sunday, ITV


The trouble with watching a crime series like Netflix’s Unbelievable, which I covered last week and which is now rightly being hailed as a ‘landmark masterpiece’*, is that any other crime series is likely to seem limp and wet and meh in comparison for a while. Or maybe Criminal is limp and wet and meh anyhow. I guess I will never know for sure. Meanwhile, I should tell you that other opinions are available. ‘Like Line Of Duty at its intense best’ is how this was described elsewhere. So that’s another opinion, if it’s another opinion you’re after – although let’s be clear: it is plain wrong. 

The first of the UK series of Criminal starred David Tennant as Doctor Edgar Fallon, a stepfather accused of raping and murdering his 14-year-old stepdaughter Nicky

The first of the UK series of Criminal starred David Tennant as Doctor Edgar Fallon, a stepfather accused of raping and murdering his 14-year-old stepdaughter Nicky

Written by George Kay (Killing Eve) and directed by Jim Field Smith (The Wrong Mans), Criminal is an anthology series of three episodes set entirely in a police interview room. Here, suspects played by guest actors are interrogated by a regular team of detectives trying to establish guilt. It all happens after the crime has been committed, so there’s no violence or car chases to endure, mercifully, and the camera only ever leaves the interview room to observe the officers watching from the other side of a two-way mirror. Or it may occasionally stray to the vending machine in the police station corridor. And that’s your lot, action-wise. The three UK stories, I should add, are actually part of a larger project as there are further blocks of three stories set in France, Germany and Spain, written and directed and starring people from those countries, which you can watch either dubbed or subtitled. I have yet to work out what the point of this may be. 

In all versions the detectives remain the same, the suspects differ, and the first of the UK series starred David Tennant as Doctor Edgar Fallon, a stepfather accused of raping and murdering his 14-year-old stepdaughter Nicky. Every episode is 45 minutes long, and for the first 20 minutes all Fallon will say is ‘no comment’, as advised by his solicitor. To be fair, Tennant repeating ‘no comment’ is more gripping than most other actors doing almost anything, but once Edgar can no longer bear it and starts to talk, oh dear. I just stopped believing in any of it. Offering alternatives to the evidence against him, he accused Nicky’s PE teacher, who had also been on the netball tour from which Nicky disappeared. Um… wouldn’t the police have checked his alibi by now? Also, would a doctor normally carry plaster of Paris in his doctor’s bag? Also, having discovered Edgar had had his car cleaned, why did the detectives not mention this until there were only two minutes to go? And on and on it went. No one on these netball tours ever queried Edgar and Nicky sharing a double (not twin) room? Line Of Duty this is not, as I have never wanted to throw a shoe at the television while Line Of Duty was on. 

The second story? This starred Hayley Atwell as the woman who may have administered rat  poison to her sister’s boyfriend, now in a coma. CCTV showed her buying the rat poison from the corner shop. Thallium, which is colourless, odourless, tasteless and deadly, was the key toxic ingredient, we were told. But the fact is that thallium is so colourless, odourless, tasteless and deadly, it’s been banned from rat poison in the UK since the mid-Seventies. Therefore, Atwell’s character could not have bought rat poison containing thallium from the corner shop. It’s the lack of attention to detail that’s so trying, and as for the third story, I may have lost the will to live. 

That said, the detectives were all elegantly played, particularly by Katherine Kelly, whom I adore, but they were all such poor detectives, ultimately. It was quite obvious from early on, for example, that one officer, Hugo Duffy (Mark Stanley), seemed unnaturally attached to his mug which, helpfully, so we might keep track of it, was stamped with a big ‘H’. Truly, I was asking about this long before they were. Just saying. 

As telling as what we are watching is, perhaps, what we are not watching any more. And Sanditon, I am not watching that any more. I’ll go further: it’s intolerable! Jane Austen wrote 11 chapters of this particular novel before her death, and if you read those chapters you will understand that the heroine, Charlotte Hawkins, is inexperienced but still intended to cast a cool outsiders’ eye on everyone she encounters at the seaside resort. Lady Denham, she reflects, is ‘sordid’, while Sir Edward Denham is ‘downright silly’. But, as written by Andrew Davies, it is Charlotte (Rose Williams) herself who is downright silly and always gushing and gurning about the place in her downright silly way. Plus, every single episode could, I believe, simply be titled ‘Charlotte clashes with Stanley. Again’. I am persisting with The Capture, even though I don’t have a clue what’s going on. But Sanditon? Dumped. 

*When I tell people it’s about rape I see them clouding over, but don’t cloud over. Just watch it instead.





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