As I mentioned in one of my reviews last week, ITV often excels when it comes to crime drama and therefore the channel loves to bring back successful format as many times as possible. Victorian mystery drama The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is one such drama which has proved popular in the past with both feature-length instalments doing particularly well in the ratings. Tonight, Paddy Considine returns for what is the first of two films as Whicher is once again recruited as a private investigator in a matter which sees him reunited with a man who kicked him off the police force.
The man in question is former Home Secretary Sir Edward Shore who enlists Whicher’s help in order to track down the men who are stalking his son’s family. The film’s central mystery revolves around Charles Shore’s past in India and the fact that one of his former acquaintances is supposedly out for revenge. Although Charles is initially portrayed as a man who is simply out to protect his family, it’s later revealed that he’s more interested in protecting his own reputation. As some more delicate details of Charles’ time in India are revealed, it’s clear why Sir Edmund recruited Whicher rather than call Scotland Yard. Eventually we discover that Charles’ children are the result of an affair with an Indian woman but are now being raised by he and his wife. But the threat to his family is seemingly coming from the brothers of the woman who are out for revenge against the man they feel has wronged their sister. Events soon escalate as the boys go missing, but it transpires that this kidnapping may have more to do with protecting the Shore name than an act of revenge by the boys’ mother.
I have to say that I found this central plot to be fairly contrived and was much more interested in the character of Whicher himself. The past two Whicher films have seen our protagonist fall from grace following the loss of both his job and his family. After the last Whicher instalment questioned his mental state, Beyond the Pale sees his attempts at a potential rehabilitation. This is demonstrated through his burgeoning relationship with his landlady Charlotte Piper, with whom he exchanges a number of meaningful glances in the early moments of the episode. However Whicher’s past soon catches up with him when he encounters both Sir Edward and later his old boss Commissioner Mayne. Additionally, the kidnap of the Shore boys forces Whicher to deal with what happened to his own sons as he shares his feelings with Charlotte about the incident. Former nurse Charlotte soon witnesses Whicher’s job first hand and it seems that any chance of a romance between the pair may well have been quashed.
I definitely feel that Beyond the Pale is at its strongest when focusing on the character of Whicher as the central crime story feels incredibly stretched at times. It almost appears as if writer Helen Edmundson runs out of ideas in terms of the Shore story as the reveal of the true kidnapper is incredibly weak. The secondary characters feel incredibly thinly drawn with Charles Shore in particular being portrayed as a conniving weak man who is willing to pull a gun on anyone who gets in his way. It’s fair to say that I wasn’t at all invested in the fate of the Shore boys or in this plot as a whole. The only character I had any interest in was Whicher himself and it was great to see the detective’s attempts at rebuilding himself. Whicher’s confrontation with his own past was an interesting theme that was well-explored throughout the drama and I which we could’ve spent more time with him and less with the tiresome Shores. Furthermore, I liked the hint at a potential romance between he and his landlady with the scenes between the two providing some much-needed light in an otherwise dark tale.
But it wasn’t only the themes of the episode that were dark; indeed the majority of the episode seem to be filmed in a darkened room. Indeed there were several times throughout the episode that I found myself squinting just to make out the shapes on the screen. Although most of the scenes were lightened with candles, director David Blair’s quest to present an authentic Victorian backdrop meant that the majority of the film was cloaked in darkness. I felt that this darkness was almost a hindrance to the plot itself and is one of the main things I’ll remember about Beyond the Pale. At the same time I can’t fault other areas of the production design as, when they were visible, the Victorian sets were incredibly impressive. In addition I was particularly impressed by the period costumes that each character wore as I felt it added to the overall feel of the programme.
As Whicher, Paddy Considine delivers an incredibly reserved performance but it is one that perfectly anchors the drama. Considine’s restrained turn really suits the character of Whicher and his facial expressions convey the emotional pain that the detective has suffered. I also felt that Considine perfectly portrayed Whicher’s attempts to turn his life around especially in relation to his feelings for Charlotte. At the same time, I felt that Considine’s reserved turn doesn’t really make a lot of what happens on screen feel exciting. So, while I enjoy the actor’s performance, it isn’t really conducive to my enjoyment of the drama and as a result I had a lack of connection to what was going on on screen. Similarly, Considine really wasn’t well supported this time around and the lack of any memorable turns elsewhere made the instalment feel incredibly flat.
Although I’ve watched both instalments of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, neither have really stayed with me and I feel that that will also be the case with Beyond the Pale. Despite some decent period detail and a fine performance from Considine, there was nothing really memorable in this contrived tale. I was never invested in the action and at times I found it hard to watch due to the darkened backdrops. That being said I can see why a period crime drama is so successful with the general public and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Whicher returned once again following this current run.
What did you think to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher? Did you enjoy it more than I did?
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