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Boat Story, BBC One review - once upon a time in Yorkshire | reviews, news & interviews

Boat Story, BBC One review - once upon a time in Yorkshire

Boat Story, BBC One review - once upon a time in Yorkshire

New Williams brothers thriller is violent, far-fetched and extremely watchable

Finders keepers: Paterson Joseph as Samuel, Daisy Haggard as Janet

It was as long ago as January last year that the prolific Williams brothers, Jack and Harry, delivered their absorbing Australian Outback thriller The Tourist. Hitherto, product seemed to have been pouring out of them almost hourly, whether it was Liar, The Missing and Baptiste or The Widow, Rellik and Angela Black.

Anyway, after this little sabbatical, here they are again with this six-part mystery, a whimsical fable about luck (or the absence of it), fate, memory and delusion. It also contains a little more than its fair share of violence, and the cold-blooded massacre of a whole police station full of cops in the opening episode seemingly put a lot of viewers off watching any more of it.

But it’s worth sticking with, because it gets steadily stranger, funnier and more addictive as it goes along, even if corpses do keep piling up. Though we could maybe do without the too-glib and self-referential voiceover, delivered in a sepulchral American accent (confusingly, by Iceland’s Ólafur Darri Ólafsson).

It all begins with the chance discovery of a fishing boat loaded with a huge consignment of cocaine which has washed up on a Yorkshire beach, with a couple of dead bodies on board. The finders of this contraband hoard are a couple of random beach-strollers, Janet Campbell (Daisy Haggard) and Samuel Wells (Paterson Joseph). Both, as turns out, have their own reasons for needing a quick cash pick-me-up, though you don’t have to be Professor Chris Whitty to work out that making off with a vast stash of contraband drugs might prove harmful to your health in a variety of ways.

Back-story-wise, we learn that Samuel is a lawyer who has been struck off, because he developed a chronic gambling habit which forced him to sell the family home (apparently he has somehow managed to convince his wife that there was nothing at all suspicious in the way he moved the family from London to Yorkshire). Janet, meanwhile, lost the fingers of one hand in an industrial accident, but was outrageously fiddled out of getting any compensation. They both have motive, but perhaps not much common sense.

Long story short (you can binge it all on the iPlayer), they take the drugs but the people who own them want them back. While this involves a measure of egregious thuggery, it has also allowed the Williamses to create another role for their favourite French actor, Tchéky Karyo, star of Baptiste and The Missing. Karyo plays a character known as The Tailor (since tailoring was his family business), but he has grown sleek and well-upholstered on the proceeds of crime. Equipped with impeccable table manners and capable of exuding avuncular old-world charm, he may also lapse into a sudden rage and beat somebody to death with a hammer.

It is in the former guise that he woos Pat Tooh (Joanna Scanlan, pictured above with Karyo), a robustly down-to-earth lass who runs a cakes and pasties shop in the quaint Yorkshire town of Applebury called Patsty’s. The rampant implausibility of this is somehow overcome by the expertise of the two actors, who manage to build up the relationship into something genuinely touching, so you find yourself wishing it would somehow all work out for the best.

The Williamses have enjoyed themselves not just by including a play-within-a-play to comment on their own drama, but also by lobbing in head-spinning u-turns. Look no further than The Tailor’s henchman-in-chief, Guy (Craig Fairbrass, pictured top left), who mercilessly homes in on his boss’s stolen stash amid a trail of ultra-violence and yet harbours an unfulfilled yearning to express his artistic leanings through the medium of pottery. Pat’s son Ben (Ethan Lawrence, pictured above) is seemingly a police constable of farcically limited ability, but it’s he who makes a critical breakthrough in their investigation. And one of Janet Campbell’s finest moments is her steely impersonation of a Balkan drug baron, or baroness, who sweeps in to save the floundering Samuel’s bacon.

Above all, there’s The Tailor’s own back story, woven through the narrative in monochrome flashbacks and whose significance finally erupts as the show reaches its climax. It’s about as far from kitchen-sink realism as you can get, though the Yorkshire locations help to give the story some tenuous attachment to reality. Most of all, it’s the efforts of an excellent all-round cast that keep Boat Story afloat. The moral is if you’re going to do something bizarre and outlandish, do it like you mean it.


Spoiler alert.  Less of a review than  plot sharing 

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