Follow Us on Twitter

Manhunt (Martin Clunes) - Series review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

FOR all the fears concerning the exploitative potential of ITV’s Manhunt, a dramatization of the investigation into the murders of Amélie Delagrange, Marsha McDonnell and Milly Dowler, what emerged was a far more respectful piece of television that ended on a bittersweet note.

Writer Ed Whitmore painstakingly researched all three cases, as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy, to ensure maximum authenticity throughout. And while some names – including that of Sheedy – and scenes were changed for dramatic purposes, few could deny that this detracted from an otherwise gripping and chilling piece of television.

Crucially, though, Whitmore chose not to dwell on the man behind the murders for too long. Levi Bellfield’s presence was felt throughout, by virtue of the trail of destruction he left in his wake. But there was no attempt made to get to know or understand the man behind the monster.

Rather, the show didn’t seek to sensationalise his crimes, but rather to show the devastating effect of them. The sense of loss felt by the victims’ families, for instance, was achingly conveyed by a couple of scenes with Amélie’s parents, Jean-François and Dominique Delagrange (played by Stephane Conicard and Michèle Belgrand).

While Bellfield’s ability to strike fear into those he sought to control in his own life, most notably with his partner Laura Marsh (a name change from Emma Mills), presented all you needed to know about him.

Whitmore, instead, chose to focus the show’s main energy on the intricacies of bringing the case to justice, which involved many years and a lot of painstaking police work.

He allowed events to play out from the perspective of Met detective Colin Sutton (played brilliantly by Martin Clunes) as he sought to navigate a tricky path marked by media scrutiny, police error and a steadfast refusal to drop the principals he knew would guide him to a successful conclusion.

Sutton has since revealed in interviews [and in his memoir] that he treated the solving of the case like a classic police mystery from a bygone era [the 1950s]. He therefore had his team trawl through hours and hours of CCTV footage [from street cameras and bus cams] to piece together a potential pattern, while also having his team search through some 26,000 registered vans to get the one vehicle that Bellfield used. Indeed, vehicles and camera footage eventually proved a vital tool in bringing Bellfield to justice.

But then a second hero emerged in the form of Bellfield’s partner, Laura Marsh (played by Cara Theobold). It was Laura (aka Emma Mills) who provided Sutton and his team with the key pieces of the puzzle – traumatic accounts of her own abuse, which were enough to keep him off the streets initially, as well as till receipts from a shopping trip that eventually put Bellfield in Twickenham at the time of Amélie’s murder.

A scene involving Sutton reading murder charges to Bellfield provided a satisfying climax to the tense moments leading up to it. But Whitmore’s screenplay didn’t pretend that this was the end of the story.

Rather, it quietly acknowledged the suffering and regrets that continue… the sense of what if. It highlighted a rivalry between Sutton’s Met Police and their Surrey Police colleagues that delayed the piecing together of the Milly Dowler case (Bellfield was charged with Milly’s murder two years after being charged with Amélie’s). And while artistic licence was used in a confrontational scene between Sutton and a Surrey Police superior, it is perhaps telling that both the Met and Surrey have declined to comment on the issue.

Sutton, for his part, told The Radio Times: “What I would always say is the Surrey force were very tenacious and determined once they realised Bellfield was their suspect. There are so many things in play, and one of which is Surrey is a small force and they had a lot of big cases to work with at the time.”

And then there was the crucial oversight of Hounslow’s police force to view important CCTV footage from Bellfield’s attack on Sarah Knight, which – it argued – could have taken the killer off the streets much earlier, thereby saving Amélie’s life.

A sense of what might have been was etched across the haunted face of Clunes, thereby enabling him to effectively convey the feelings of those still living with the repercussions of Bellfield’s reign of terror.

Contrary to initial fears and scepticism, then, Manhunt provided a gripping and highly accurate account of one of the most high profile serial killer cases of recent years without exploiting any of the cases for easy viewing figures.

It provided a sobering reminder that monsters really do exist, while quietly celebrating the men and women who worked tirelessly to catch them. It also showed the lasting effects of crime and the horrific nature of it.

Clunes and the ensemble cast were superb throughout, performing with restraint and an everyman quality that made the procedural feel all the more real. While decisions to use real locations and even real props – the A-Z Sutton is seen referring to at several points is the actual book he used – heightened this sense of authenticity.

Hence, while Manhunt may ultimately have been unable to offer little in the way of solace to the families of the victims, it did at the very least treat the memory of those victims with respect, while perhaps reminding people to be more vigilant and collaborative in preventing these types of crimes from happening so easily again.

Read our verdict on the first episode