Aidan Smith's TV week: The Tourist, Anne, Four Lives
Okay, so you all get the tribute to Steven Spielberg in Jamie Dornan’s new BBC1 Saturday nighter The Tourist. That chase at the very beginning, when an articulated lorry becomes frighteningly animalistic in its pursuit of a car, is straight out of Duel.
But what about the Alfred Hitchcock tribute? The bloke stuck underground reminds me of when the master of the macabre slummed it on TV and dreamed up Final Escape. That little chiller where a convict’s attempt to break out of a prison lumber yard inside a coffin goes hopelessly wrong is 58 years old but I’ve never forgotten it or the blood-curdling screams at the end. Spoiler alert: those screams are replicated in The Tourist after a scorpion crawls into the airpipe which had been keeping this poor schmuck alive.
Dornan is Elliott Stanley, although we only discover his identity at the end of episode two. Until then he can’t remember his name or anything about why he suddenly staggers into a diner in the middle of nowhere. This is Burnt Ridge deep in the Australian outback, a one-kangaroo town but at least it’s got a diner, or it did have, until the place was blown up, sending Stanley and waitress Luci (Shalom Brune-Franklin) to Murray Waters which makes Burnt Ridge look like New York in comparison.
The Tourist, though, as penned by Jack and Harry Williams, has plenty going for it. There’s Dornan who’s working hard to restore his reputation after Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s Brune-Franklin who made such a striking contribution to the last series of Line of Duty, a show where the trio of leads had become part of the national conversation, and there must have been a danger a new recruit would struggle to outshine the AC-12 photocopier in the personality stakes.
Equally as good is Danielle Macdonald as the rookie cop belittled by her superior officer and her fiance - a bumptious and controlling fellow member of local fat club - who decides to prove she’s up to the task of as big a mystery as this. But maybe they’re all outdone by the scenery - yawning skies above, 50 shades of dirty brown below. Twelve months ago the BBC began the new year with The Serpent, set in Thailand, another far-off land which seems even more distant right now. They’re just teasing us.
If we take the “Dirty Duchess” and A Very British Scandal out of the equation, new drama over Christmas amounted to a turkey nuggets meal deal. But here come the big ones: Anne (ITV) and Four Lives (BBC1). Played out nightly, directly against each other, the true stories have exhausted themselves and us. Still, we marvel at the fortitude of the central characters - in both cases, mothers who lost sons - and are appalled at the failings which brought about tragedy and which neither woman was willing to give up the fight to expose.
Anne is Anne Williams, mother of 15-year-old Hillsborough victim Kevin. She’s played by Maxine Peake in monumental form. In the very first scene the lad - “our Kev” - is at home sketching Liverpool’s legendary Scottish manager Bill Shankly for his school art class. He recites a Shanks mantra: “Never give up, never give in.” Straight after the stadium disaster in 1989 it becomes his mum’s mantra as she vows: “I need to know why my boy died at a game of football.”
Kev’s pal Andy tells her how - fatally - they swapped pens for a busier one because “we love all that, the singing and the swaying, being right in the thick of it”. But very quickly fan testimonies aren’t squaring with those of officialdom. Why were ambulances - as many as 42 - kept outside the ground? They were waiting for the fighting to stop. What fighting?
Why did every inquest - 94 fans died on the day, rising to 97 - begin with the blood alcohol content? The families quickly suspect a cover-up. Why did the coroner refuse to consider any evidence after 3.15pm on match-day when Williams finds witnesses to the fact that that Kev was still alive half an hour after the cut-off point and, with her pendant round his neck, lying on an advertising board serving as a makeshift stretcher, murmuring the word “mum”?
Anne (script: Kevin Sampson) is a tough watch but that’s nothing compared with the 27 years the families fought for an “unlawful killing” verdict. Williams’ relentless quest for justice costs her her marriage. Told she has cancer and that it’s “very aggressive”, she informs the doctor: “Well, so am I.” Near the end, her daughter says of the constant campaigning: “This is what’s killed you, Mum.” She replies: “No, love, it’s what’s kept me going.”
Equally horrific and equally compelling is Neil McKay’s Four Lives, which begins with another grieving, angry mother, Sarah Sak (Sheridan Smith), asking similarly tough questions following the death of her fashion-student son. Here the police don’t so much cover up as clodhop. Family liaison officers have been high profile recently - Showtrial’s seemed to go above and beyond the call of duty in his tender mercies - but the one here is always on answerphone and can’t pronounce the victim’s name. Worse, his force fail to make the connection with three later deaths. All turn out to be victims of serial killer Stephen Port, collecting toy trucks and young gay men he labels “twinks” and played by Stephen Merchant shedding his comic smarts to a quite chilling degree.
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