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Manhunt (Martin Clunes) - Review

Manhunt

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

ITV’S first big drama of 2019 may be a controversial arrival to the communities of Walton on Thames and Twickenham given its proximity to recent events. But on the evidence of the first episode, Manhunt offers a compassionate, restrained look at one of the most high profile murder cases of recent years.

Based on the memoirs of Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, the three-part drama focuses on the 2004 murder of Amélie Delagrange and the hitherto unsolved cases of Marsha McDonnell and Milly Dowler.

It is also notable for marking the first straight role that leading man Martin Clunes has taken on.

But what could easily have become showy and sensationalist instead emerges as thoughtful and intriguing, if flawed in places.

Ed Whitmore’s script treats the crimes themselves with sensitivity. There is no graphic detail of the murders themselves. The direction, meanwhile, spares us lingering close-ups of bloodied female corpses or – worse – autopsies featuring black humour. In the case of Delagrange, whose murder provides the catalyst for the show, we are even afforded a look at her parents visiting the scene of the crime, and their despair at the loss of a life so beloved.

At a time when a lot of crime dramas opt for the sensational, Manhunt deserves praise for not being dragged in.

Clunes, too, deserves praise for a performance that eschews the spectacular. He plays Sutton and opts for a distinctly everyman approach. There are no quirks, no grandstanding speeches or ‘big moments’. Rather, he’s a dad, a husband and a detective who is finally given his big break on a case that became much bigger than first appearances suggested.

There are flaws, of course. There are times when the first episode seemed to get caught between two identities… drifting from character study of Sutton one minute to police procedural the next, without really committing to either.

While the complexity of the case and its back-story involving Dowler and McDonnell somehow demands greater exploration. This feels like a third act piece masquerading as a first and I’m sure there is much to mine from the investigations into both of those murders prior to Delagrange.

But in the main, this grips by virtue of both its proximity to the events and its simplistic approach. By allowing the [sometimes embellished] events to play out on their own terms, this has a grim fascination that both lays bear the human cost of the crimes and the quality of the police work that eventually led to the capture of the main suspect.

And that has been achieved, thus far, without dwelling on the murderer himself: Levi Bellfield. A different show might have allowed the story to unfold from his perspective, or at least trailed him as a parallel storyline. It would have been a bad idea.

Of course, the question of whether Manhunt should have been made at all, given how recently the crimes occurred, remains a pertinent one. Should Sunday night drama piggy-back onto real events, especially when relatives of the people involved are still very much alive and grieving? How soon is too soon?

Certainly, there are some members of the communities of Walton and Twickenham (where I reside) who accused the show of being exploitative while it was being made [particularly in its decision to revisit actual locations].

But then the same questions were asked of dramas such as Appropriate Adult (also an ITV drama, which went on to win numerous awards) as well as major event depictions such as 9/11 and 7/7. There are some who counter argue some films/dramas haven’t been made soon enough.

In the case of Manhunt so far, the fact that we’re watching real events unfold does make for uncomfortable viewing. But then it should.

And while these were horrible crimes, with lasting repercussions for everyone involved, the approach to recounting them, so far, has been suitably sensitive. It remains to be seen how the portrayal of Bellfield, in particular, develops and how the linking of the cases is ultimately handled.

But in the main, this is an engrossing piece of drama that offers a sobering reality check to the types of police procedurals that otherwise opt for cheap thrills in order to get people talking.

Manhunt airs on ITV at 9pm on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (January 6, 7 & 8, 2019).

Read our verdict on the complete series