Aidan Smith's TV week: Manhunt (Apple TV+), Love Rat (Channel 5), The Dry (ITVX), Un Amore (Sky Atlantic)

Aidan Smith reviews some of the TV highlights from this week.

It’s been quite a while. I don’t suppose I’ve thought about the American Civil War since those cards which came free with bubblegum halted all playground games so macabre schoolboys could gather round to gawp at impalings on the bloody battlefield.

Actually, there was one more time, a few years later, when Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” namechecked General Robert E. Lee. Roxy songs were full of esoteric references but at least I remembered this guy from the cards. What they didn’t tell us nine-year-olds, though, was that Lee waved the Confederate flag of surrender with a dishtowel. That five days after the war ended President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. That the killer was an actor desperate for fame beyond the stage.

Hide Ad

Manhunt does all of this, a six-part drama from Apple TV+, but what a terrible title. It’s too generic, and more suggestive of a modern murder investigation - not one where communication is by telegram and the getaway vehicle is a horse.

The stately pace, the sturdiness of the leather on boots and books, the swelling soundtrack - we aren’t in much doubt about the show’s idea of itself. This. Is. Serious. Work. But it’s got Tobias Menzies who was the best of the various Duke of Edinburghs in The Crown. And for nincompoops like me, it’s a history lesson.

Menzies is Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, who arrives at the scene of the murder to be told what had provoked it: “Freeing negroes and offering them the vote was too much, too fast.” Anthony Boyle plays the killer, John Wilkes Booth.

Part of an acting family but a lesser performer, Booth is recognised around Washington all the same, and female admirers post him the 1860s equivalent of the smartphone’s boob pic - although everyone he meets remarks on how he’s smaller than he looks in his “side roles”, which mainly involve stunt work.

And he’s small in every sense: vain, priggish with delusions of grandeur, resolving that after Lincoln’s abolition of slavery, the murderous deed is one he must undertake on behalf of the Confederate cause - but also so that his name might echo down the ages. Boyle is excellent, as is Menzies as the drama’s quiet moral centre, with his character embarking on an exciting chase by first banning sales of horse feed in Maryland.

If Manhunt as a drama is high-end worthy, then Love Rat is unabashedly modest in aspiration, but will probably be watched by more people. It’s classic Channel 5: Neil Morrissey plays a dad with money troubles, just like he did in the network’s recent Finders Keepers. Sally Lindsay is his ex-wife who jets off on her own to Cyprus, scene of their holidays as a couple, as a show of her newly-won independence. And Gerard Kyd is the silver fox with chat-up lines borrowed from the smoothie in the Cointreau ads who after a couple of nights of holiday romance persuades her to loan him £200,000 from the divorce settlement to seal the deal on a swish apartment, which of course turns out to be a scam.

Hide Ad

Because Lindsay’s Emma is blonde with psychological issues and is trapped in a world of men with murky motivations, I’m wondering if the four-parter’s aspiration is in fact Alfred Hitchcock. Okay, the end result is perhaps more Alfred Stopcock or Alfred Schlock-cock, but I don’t mind this. Love Rat is as unpretentious as a walnut whip, with just as many twists.

When Emma reports the espadrilled conman to the Cypriot police she’s initially dismissed as a “silly Englishwoman who drank too many porn star martinis” and told to head back home. What fools! Don’t they know how C5 potboilers go? That the dial on the site of the pot is turned up to 11 and never drops? They won’t get rid of our heroine that easily.

Hide Ad

For a couple of episodes I’m thinking that one of the diabolical men, the right bad yin, is Neil Oliver. You know, the host of Coast who went to GB News and veered right off the map. Eventually I check my Radio Times. It’s actually Ramon Tikaram, Ferdy of fond This Life memory.

Then, just when you think the nightmare’s over, Glenn Close shoots back out of the bathtub. Not really, but that’s the definitive settle-’em-down, shock-’em-again ending, isn’t it? Or is that Sissy Spacek’s hand shooting back out of the grave?

I watched the first episode of The Dry (ITVX) in 2022, quite enjoyed it, but didn’t return to the Dublin household of Roisin Gallagher and her mad, boozy family, the Sheridans and their shenanigans. I don’t know why, other than when TV’s work you see a lot of first episodes and, however good they are, don’t always have enough time to keep watching. Also as a cynical journalist, you might have a built-in resistance to tags like “ … from the producers of Normal People” and “the Irish Fleabag”.

But based on the start of the dramedy’s second series I think I’ll give it another go. Not just for Gallagher who’s fetchingly fatalistic as recovering alcoholic Shiv with a hairstyle I couldn’t begin to adequately describe other than fall back on the standard male response of “sexy” and point out that Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid has copied it - but also for Ciaran Hinds as her dad Tom.

Since the first run he’s been cuckolded by his wife Bernie, moved out to the garden shed and replaced as the man of the house by the appalling Fibar who likes to parade semi-naked, remind everyone he’s 30 years’ sober and that he’s written a book about his “journey” (title: Touching Ourselves). I want poor Tom to touch him, preferably with a right uppercut.

What would be a funny collective noun for romcoms? I bet if Dave Allen was still around he could come up with one. “A brace of dentists” was his, as was “A flock of Indian restaurants”.

Hide Ad

After One Day and Alice & Jack here’s Un Amore (Sky Atlantic) which is so obviously Italian with a dreamy closing shot to the opener of Alessandro and Anna twirling in the revolving door of a Bologna hotel, 20 years after they first met as teenage Interrailers.

Since then only letters have passed between them. “I hear your voice in my head, try not to listen to it, but the slightest thing, the sky being a certain colour or the scent of the sea, and I’m right there with you.” If Richard Curtis wrote that he’d be derided (again) for peddling mush. Italy, though, can get away with it.

Related topics:



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.