Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Crime mystery
Availability: Apple TV (Aus/NZ), Kanopy (NZ), Britbox
Storyline: Based on John Banville’s crime novels (under the Benjamin Black pseudonym) this 2014 BBC adaptation focuses on the first three books from the Quirke series: Christine Falls; The Silver Swan; and Elegy for April. Quirke (we never get to know his first name) is a pathologist in 1950s Dublin. Ireland is bleak and in the grip of a menacing Catholic Church. Repressed characters abound, plagued by guilt, driven by power, and harbouring all kinds of family secrets. Quirke finds himself right in the middle of it. Raised in an orphanage where bad things happened, he is a complex character with all kinds of problems, the most obvious being his debilitating addiction to alcohol. Damaged by the events of his past he is compelled to apply his sleuthing skills to uncover grim legacies, not only within his family but in Ireland itself.
Film-craft: Quirke powerfully captures the grimness and griminess of 1950s Dublin. Its evocative choreography realistically illuminates the city’s cold, dimly-lit and smokey recesses. The pace is slow, frustratingly so if you prefer your crime mysteries to be thrilling. Like Banville’s books, these episodes are not representative of your typical crime mystery. Commissioned by Danny Cohen and Ben Stephenson, the series takes us on an atmospheric, slow-burning exploration of people in time and place.
Cast: Gabriel Byrne is outstanding as Quirke as he delves into the tortured life of the enigmatic protagonist. He is impressively supported by Nik Dunning as Quirke’s brother Malarchy and Michael Gambon as their father.
Personal Comments: Like Banville’s crime novels, there are three main things going on in the TV series. There are crimes to solve, but these are very much secondary to the exploration of Quirke’s family dynamics, and the stifling and controlling Irish context in which the action takes place. Banville’s books, and the episodes in this three-part series, are both grim and shocking in their own ways. The hapless Quirke is happiest when he is unhappy, and it seems that Banville is at his happiest when he’s exploring blighted Irish lives in 1950s. If you are interested in Irish Noir, this series captures it perfectly.
Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Crime thriller
Storyline: Stewart, a young handsome Scot, has gone into exile in London. He did something he regretted in the fictional town of Stonemouth and to avoid retribution he had to leave town and his lovely girlfriend, Ellie. Now her brothers are after him, full of anger and baseball bats. Sometime later his best mate Cal, another of Ellie’s brothers (she seems to have a lot of them) sends him a text asking for his help. Stewart fails to respond, and later is told that Cal has jumped from the Stonemouth bridge to his death. Remorsefully, Stewart seeks permission from Cal’s father, the local crime-lord Don Murston, to return to Stonemouth to attend Cal’s funeral. Consent is begrudgingly given, but Don makes it clear that his return home will be fleeting. He doesn’t want him anywhere near his favourite daughter. But Stewart struggles to accept that Cal has taken his own life and when driven to search for the truth, he experiences the dangers of having crossed the powerful Scottish mafia.
Film-craft: Released in 2015, and based on the Iain Banks novel of the same name, Stonemouth is visually beautiful. Filmed in the lovely town of McDuff, the stylish cinematography captures the best of the Scottish light and scenery. Less successful is the significant use of flashbacks that take some getting used to, and Stewart’s first person narration can be rather stultifying at times. But the two episode series packs a lot in, and overall it clips along nicely.
Cast: Christian Cooke is very good as the hapless Stewart whose seems to stagger from one dangerous situation to another. Charlotte Spencer as Ellie undoubtedly has a beautiful face, but as a character she doesn’t really have much impact. Brian Gleeson does a good job playing the untrustworthy Powell, but it is Peter Mullan as Don, Ellie’s father and criminal boss, who impresses.
Personal Comments: I haven’t read Stonemouth, but I wonder whether the hour-and-forty minutes of film was sufficient to flesh out the characters that are underdeveloped and generally unlikeable in the series. On the other hand, it is a pacy production with plenty of action and good deal of black humour. But perhaps the main find this week has been the Kanopy platform. With films and miniseries, old and new, it’s worth checking to see if it’s freely accessible through your local library.