tue 16/07/2024

Suspect, Channel 4 review - a stylised remake of a Danish psychological drama | reviews, news & interviews

Suspect, Channel 4 review - a stylised remake of a Danish psychological drama

Suspect, Channel 4 review - a stylised remake of a Danish psychological drama

James Nesbitt returns as another troubled policeman with a dark back-story (and matching eyebrows)

Scandi, moi? James Nesbitt as detective Danny FraterAnthony Ellison / Channel 4

Suspect has a simple premise: a detective goes on a routine visit to a mortuary where an unidentified young woman has been taken after being found hanged. Suicide is the initial judgment: the cop, Danny Frater (James Nesbitt), grills the pathologist (Joely Richardson, pictured below) about the case and starts to leave.

Then he pauses, policing instincts a-twitch, and uncovers the body’s head. Horror of horrors, it is his estranged daughter Christina, and he doesn’t believe she killed herself.

Over eight half-hour episodes, Danny tracks the people in his daughter’s life, each episode bringing him nose to nose with one character at a time, each with a slightly different take on who she was. As he pieces together a picture of Christina’s last hours, he has to accept his own role in the puzzle of her death.

This was originally a Danish series, Forhøret, now adapted by Matt Baker and directed by Belgium’s Dries Vos, and the puzzle is really why it hasn’t made the trip to London as successfully as might be hoped. It’s a bold format, but it’s not the format that induces a degree of disorientation. There’s the setup, for starters: the coincidence of Danny being the cop assigned to go to the mortuary. Perhaps it’s pedantic to care, but in Denmark with a total population of less than six million, the chance of the cop and the corpse meeting as they do isn’t such a stretch. But in London? Especially a London that’s hard to place but appears to be somewhere with sleazy fleshpots, possibly in Docklands. It’s more like an idea of London than the city itself.

So suspension of disbelief starts in the first episode. It continues as the action moves to the places where Christina was last seen, apparently chosen for their visual impact; mood boards rather than authentic locations. The set design seems in part to have been inspired by the film Performance, with its boho rooms kitted out in intense reds, greens and purples. 

Into this succession of unsettling sets comes a stream of solid acting talent, especially Niamh Alger as Christina’s ex-wife, Sacha Dhawan as a wide-boy Docklands entrepreneur and Antonia Thomas as the manager of a shady strip club. Sam Heughan (Outlander) makes a welcome visit from 17th century Scotland as Danny’s former cop partner, and Anne-Marie Duff is touching as his grieving ex. Only Richard E Grant is a bit of a sore thumb, too fastidiously spoken to be wholly plausible casting as a ruthless horse-racing boss. 

Nesbitt is in more emotional mode here than usual, his eyes wearily hooded under brows that are becoming scarily darker than the rest of his face and leap out at you from the gloom of the interiors. Christina (Imogen King) regularly makes ghostly appearances to him, reflected in mirrors or glimpsed through windows, urging him on to greater self-awareness. But he is given just one key to play in: wet-eyed misery, with an occasional flash of brutality. Appropriately, the incidental music is dirge-like, heavy on drones and what sounds like a dyspeptic foghorn, presumably to portend sinister goings-on. Your mind keeps trying to engage with Danny’s appalling predicament, but it’s hard to locate behind this exercise in style. 

Maybe Nesbitt comes with a bit too much small-screen baggage, too, after a lifetime of lead roles. It’s understandable that he might want to break away from the jaunty chancers of his earlier career and move over to the dark side of TV drama (cf The Missing, Bloodlands, The Secret), but it could take a total self-reinvention, like Sarah Lancashire’s as Julia Child, to escape those particular handcuffs. And maybe one of the reasons Scandi noir has succeeded so well in the UK is that its leads – big stars at home – are largely unknown to us, a usefully blank canvas.

Nesbitt is given just one key to play in: wet-eyed misery with an occasional flash of brutality


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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