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Television: 10 of the Best from 2012 | reviews, news & interviews

Television: 10 of the Best from 2012

Television: 10 of the Best from 2012

A selection of standout performances from the last 12 months of television

Ben Whishaw, mercurial, haunting and androgynous as Richard II

Far be it from me to try to impose shape or meaning on the past 12 months of television. You'd need teams of statisticians and psephologists to have any chance of drawing conclusions from the whirling cosmos of TV, and its infinite variety of soaps, shopping, repeats, weird sports, ailing current affairs programmes, forgotten comedies and obscure dramas. Instead, in a spirit of shameless subjectivity, here are 10 of my favourite performances from 2012.

Ben Whishaw in The Hollow Crown: Richard II, BBC Two

In a year saturated in Shakespeare, the Hollow Crown series of history plays stood out for their casting and for their powerfully filmic use of location and landscape. There was superb acting in depth too, but I found Ben Whishaw's Richard II especially haunting in its portrayal of the fey monarch infatuated with his own divinity, only able to locate his human heart when doom is staring him in the face.

Helen McCrory in Leaving, ITV1

We have already doffed our caps to ITV this year for sticking to its programme of new drama productions. One of the best of them was Tony Marchant's Leaving, starring Helen McCrory as Julie, a 40-something hotel events manager who is swept away from her suffocating family life by her infatuation with the 20-something Aaron (Callum Turner, pictured above with McCrory). McCrory made her predicament agonisingly real, and judging by their comments, artsdesk readers felt it all too painfully.

Warren Brown in Good Cop, BBC One

It hasn't been a good year for the real-life police, and it's becoming impossible to tell how you define a "good cop". In Stephen Butchard's drama, Warren Brown's conscientious and highly-commended John Paul Rocksavage was driven to extreme violence by his frustration at the way procedures and bureaucracy hampered the search for the killers of his patrol partner. Brown's achievement was to persuade you that he was in the grip of a tragic destiny, and wasn't just a head-case.

Sofie Gråbøl in The Killing III, BBC Four

The Killing has only been showing on the BBC since the beginning of 2011, but in that time the remorselessly bleak Danish detective saga has become as much of a national fixture as Downton Abbey. Sofie Gråbøl's final performance as Sarah Lund in the recently-concluded third series surpassed even her own previous efforts, leaving viewers harrowed, exhausted and emotionally drained. Oh go on, make the movie.

Martin Clunes in The Town, ITV1

One tends to regard Clunes as a bit of amusing knockabout furniture rather than a serious actor, but maybe it's time to think again. In The Town, he played Len, the alcoholic mayor of an unspecified provincial town (they shot it in High Wycombe apparently), and despite the volatile presence of Andrew Scott in the lead role, it was Clunes's eccentric, irascible, bullying mayor who scarpered with most of the plaudits. And, as it turned out, hedunnit.

Miranda Hart in Call The Midwife, BBC One

The astonishing popular success of Call the Midwife has proved that all manner of squalid gruesomeness can be shoehorned under the banner of "family entertainment" if you create strong characters and credible situations. Nonetheless, I reckon Midwife owes Miranda Hart's irrepressible and delightfully potty Chummy a big vote of thanks for putting some wit and warmth where there might otherwise only be gloom and horror.

Peter Mullan in The Fear, Channel 4

Quite a lot of The Fear was somewhat far-fetched, with its tooled-up Albanian gangsters patrolling the quaint back streets of Brighton, but Peter Mullan's central performance as Richie Beckett, an ageing gangster afflicted with Alzheimer's, was frightening and gripping.

Claire Danes in Homeland, Channel 4

The second series of Homeland seemed to become progressively unplugged from its dramatic satnav as it went along, but for at least two thirds of it Claire Danes's bug-eyed, edge-of-darkness portrayal of borderline-crazy CIA analyst Carrie Matheson shouldered most of the burden. She may have to find some new tricks and some different eyeliner for series three, though. In hot pursuit: Sofia Helin, who plays Asperger's-afflicted detective Saga Noren in The Bridge.

Steven Mackintosh in Inside Men, BBC One

This heist drama was also something of a psychological puzzle, as hinted at by the double meaning of the title. Mackintosh played John, a supervisor at a cash deposit depot. As the action progressed he steadily peeled away the trappings of the mousy, repressed bean-counter he'd always been to reveal a molten core of rage, frustration and furious ambition. He was the mouse that roared.

Toby Jones in The Girl, BBC Two

Some of Alfred Hitchcock's leading ladies have rallied round to protest at the depiction of the Master in Gwyneth Hughes's script, but whatever the truth, Toby Jones's portrayal of him as a controlling, sadistic, sexually repressed manipulator was a tour-de-force, right down to his stumpy little walk. I would add that Sienna Miller was also brilliant as the tormented Tippi Hedren, pecked and scratched not only by Hitchcock but by a bunch of angry birds too.

One tends to regard Martin Clunes as a bit of amusing knockabout furniture rather than a serious actor, but maybe it's time to think again

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