Monday, BBC2, 9pm
Tuesday, BBC1, 9pm
THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER
Sunday, STV, 8pm
“Hello. Is that J. Jameson Spotlight, big-shot representative of famed actress Gillian Anderson?”
“Yeah. Whaddya want?”
“I have a part she may be interested in. It's an aloof, icy, enigmatic professional whose emotional distance causes...”
“She'll do it.”
Now: I'm not suggesting that Anderson is a one-note actress. Her ethereal performance as Miss Havisham in the BBC's 2011 adaptation of Great Expectations proved she's more than capable of playing something other than emotionally withdrawn maidens. But it's true that she's frequently typecast as glacial beauties who shrink from matters of the heart.
And so it is in THE FALL, an absorbing five-part thriller in which she casts her inscrutable gaze over the gloomy streets of Belfast, in search of an elusive serial killer. Yet despite initial suspicions that this is Anderson on autopilot, she gradually reveals an enjoyably arch and self-aware approach to the role of DSI Stella Gibson. It's an astute match of performer and part.
Called in to review an ongoing investigation into an unsolved murder, Gibson quickly connects it to the subsequent death of another young professional woman. So far, so-so. But the twist in The Fall is that we know who did it. Like Columbo, it reveals the identity of the killer upfront, thus turning it into a suspenseful “Howcatchem” rather than a traditional “Whodunnit”.
Our villain in this case operates along the Norman Bates principle: a good-looking, outwardly normal young man who happens to be a psychopathic murderer. Married with two young children, Paul Spector (a subdued, intensely creepy performance from Jamie Dornan) is an unsettling creation who feels far more dangerous than the zany lunatics who usually dominate this landscape.
While the director is perhaps slightly overfond of darkly ironic juxtaposition, the switching back and forth between Gibson's investigation and Spector's double-life plays out very effectively. Both desensitised and diligent - “You and I are very much alike, Mr Bond!” - they're a compelling double-act who never share the screen.
Despite some fleetingly silly moments – the serial killer genre practically demands them – this a relatively understated production boasting a ring of authenticity. The minimal use of incidental music is a notable, welcome touch. However, the suffocating scenes of violence against women are arguably gratuitous, and I can't say I feel entirely comfortable with them. That they appear in a largely female-led drama (written by a man) merely compounds the sense of unease.
That caveat aside, its an addictive, twist-ridden study of grief, obsession and identity (or: a grisly thriller that's read a few books). Boosted by uniformly fine performances, it's Anderson's subtly eccentric turn as the outwardly emotionless, alpha-female Gibson which suggests The Fall has the potential to run beyond a mere five episodes.
The female protagonist in FRANKIE is practically Gibson's polar opposite. Indeed, it's possible to glean whole seconds of fun from imagining these two characters awkwardly attempting to relate to each other (Gibson wouldn't bother, Frankie would overcompensate). Played by Torchwood star Eve Myles, she's a winsomely fun-loving district nurse who gets her kicks from singing along loudly to her car radio, and dancing around sassily in the kitchen. She may as well have “I'm mad, me!” stencilled on her forehead.
Like one of those Here Come the Girls Boots ads with added medical trauma, Frankie combines excruciating whimsy with well-intentioned attempts to explore human dilemmas via the dedicated exploits of an overworked NHS professional. And that's partly the problem: would even the busiest district nurse deal with so much dramatic incident over the course of a few days? I'm all for suspending disbelief, but Frankie comes across as a sort of feisty superhero with a heart of gold.
Its main saving grace is the charm of Myles, an appealing, believable actress whose natural warmth tends to compensate for the material she's lumbered with. This, remember, is a woman who survived ghastly episodes of Torchwood written by Chris “Redeemed himself with Broadchurch” Chibnall. But even she can't override supposedly funny yet cringe-inducing lines such as “I laugh at cutbacks! I sneer at them!” At one point a loveable old man with Alzheimer's says her profession is a funny one. “Well, I'm a funny sort of woman,” she winks. True, Frankie, you're bonkers.
In fairness, the Alzheimer's storyline is handled fairly well, and Frankie isn't depicted as entirely perfect. Her saviour complex is shown to have a detrimental effect on her private life, although her boyfriend, played by Dean Lennox Kelly, is such a nuisance, she'd be better off in the arms of her male nurse colleague (Scots actor Derek Riddell, with whom Myles shares an engaging chemistry).
The criminally underexposed Olivia Colman crops up in THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER, the second candlelit drama based on the real-life exploits of the pioneering Victorian detective. Paddy Considine is on reliable form as the troubled, upstanding Whicher, as he investigates the murder of Colman's runaway niece in Jack the Ripper London. It's a mildly diverting mystery, marred by a ludicrous contrivance in the final act. Also, fans of the Olivia Colman Crying Game are advised to imbibe sensibly.