The Pembrokeshire Murders

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Crime drama

Availability: Acorn

Storyline: In 2011 John Cooper, a local Pembrokeshire man, was convicted of, and sentenced for two double murders that he committed in 1985. They became known as the Pembrokeshire Murders. At the same time, Cooper was charged and sentenced for the rape and sexual assault of two young teenagers. Cooper had held them at gunpoint with three other teenagers in 1996. The Pembrokeshire Murders is one of thirteenth real crime dramas presented by ITV. It tells the story of Operation Ottawa, a cold case investigation that was undertaken by DCI Steve Wilkins and his team who were able to use new developments in forensic science, including DNA evidence, to review unsolved cases. The series covers the reexamination of evidence collected at the time, the re-interviewing of people involved, and the subsequent court hearing. 

Filming and Setting: The external scenes for the series were filmed in Pembrokeshire and other beautiful areas across Southwest Wales. Given the film was based on real life, the filmmakers were very conscious of the need for locational sensitivity, while at the same time wanting to be authentic to the place and time. Rather than filming in the locations where the crimes actually took place, they chose similar locations and architecture. The drama is also understated. Without the histrionics and multiple twists and turns we’ve come to expect of a fictional detective series, The Pembrokeshire Murders has the feel of realism and legitimacy. 

Cast: Consistent with this dramatic authenticity, the cast give the impression that they might have come straight out of the Dyfed Powys police force. While everyone does well in this series, four actors stand out. Luke Evans is excellent playing DCI Steve Wilkins who has returned to Wales from a stint working in Scotland Yard. He brings calm and dignity to the role, while assertively  negotiating thorny police procedures and professional relationships. Keith Allen plays the psychopath John Cooper to perfection. He is seriously frightening, particularly as we see him controlling the people around him, and in particular his wife Pat who is gripped by fear, and very well played by Caroline Berry. Finally, Oliver Ryan brings a deep vein of humanity as he plays Cooper’s estranged son, Andrew/Adrian. He does a terrific job portraying a character damaged by years of abuse and neglect. 

Personal Comments: I’m sure not everyone will like the understated nature of The Pembrokeshire Murders. But I am impressed by the way in which the series manages to condense the passing of procedural time as the evidence is re-examined – all captured in the first single episode, leaving the remaining episodes to focus on interviews, discoveries, and the subsequent court process. Threaded through the series we also see Wilkins at home, trying to manage a divorce and strained relationships with his ex and their children – not a lot, but enough to show the demands of juggling family life and a stressful work environment. None of this is new, nor does particularly generate new insights. But it is a respectful, and compelling, portrayal of a police investigation, without the usual dramatic bells and whistles.

6 Replies to “The Pembrokeshire Murders”

  1. The film review goes on in spite of you and George being away on holidays – impressive!
    I will definitely look into this one as you do suggest it is compelling in an understated way.

    1. Yes indeed! Not sure what that says about my work-life balance… but in my defence, reviewing doesn’t feel like work!

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