The Christmas holiday period was rather disappointing from the perspective of good TV crime drama. There was a surfeit of the usual suspects - Poirot and Marples - and a distinct lack of new, contemporary writing. Not that I have anything against Agatha Christie and her detectives. David Suchet has been a wonderful Poirot and the various actresses who have played Miss Marples have also been very good. It is just that you can get too much of a good thing. And in this case the two main offerings - The Mirror Cracked and Murder on the Orient Express - added nothing new to the previous versions. Both were in fact rather disappointing.
While there is some contemporary work to be seen on TV, most of this tends to rely on old and trusted series. Taggart and Silent Witness are still going strong, though the Taggart formula does seem to have come to the end of its shelf life. A good new Scottish based crime series is badly needed. Lynda LaPlante is another who continues to write new work for TV. Unfortunately here too I feel she may have lost her way a bit. The most recent run of Above Suspicion - Deadly Intent - was too stuck in stereotypes for my taste. In particular it was a great waste of Kelly Reilly, who is a really good actress and deserves better material than this.
It was therefore with great pleasure that I awaited the first showing of a new (to TV) crime series. This was Zen, based on the books by Michael Dibdin. And I was not disappointed. I enjoyed all three episodes and very much hope that more are commissioned. Rufus Sewell, shown above with Caterina Murino, his colleague and love interest, played the part of Aurelio Zen the Venetian detective who works in Rome. The series was shot on location in Rome and all three episodes explored the darker side of Roman society and in particular the corruption that seems to pervade much of contemporary Italy.
I am also awaiting with much anticipation another new TV series which is due to reach us soon. This one will feature Brenda Blethyn as DI Vera Stanhope and has been shot in Northumberland. The series is based on the books by Anne Cleeves. I have not read any of these novels, though I have read Cleeves’ Shetland Quartet of crime novels, all of which I enjoyed immensely. So I have high hopes for Vera.
It is always good to see more new crime drama on TV. One, relatively easy way to do this is to show foreign series. Already we get plenty of US series and many of them are excellent, but it would be good to see some of the good work from other countries. This has already begun to happen. We have seen all of the two Swedish TV Wallander series, starring Krister Henrikson. This seemed to be very popular, I certainly enjoyed all of them. The BBC has also shown three episodes of an earlier Swedish TV series this time featuring Rolf Lassgård in the role of Wallander. They were excellent as well and I hope they will show the remaining episodes soon.
The BBC has also shown two other foreign language crime series. The French TV series Spirals was shown in its entirety, covering the two series filmed. A very gritty and at times violent look at modern France. Spirals clearly owed a lot to US TV crime series. Very different in style, approach and look is Montalbano, the Italian TV series, based on the novels by Andrea Camilleri, which feature detective Montalbano of the police force in a small Sicilian town. Beautifully shot, full of light and with more than a little humour, the two episodes shown still manage to dig into the dark underworld of Sicilian life. Not sure why the BBC has not shown more episode. I thoroughly enjoyed the ones shown.
There must be other foreign language made for TV crime series that could be snapped up by UK TV companies. While subtitled films may never reach a mass audience there is I am sure a large enough potential audience for good quality crime drama. Let’s hope there is more to come.