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Tag Archive: BritBox


Review by C.J. Bunce

Call it Scotland Noir or Nordic Noir, in its fifth season the BBC’s Shetland just keeps getting better.  Just as viewers were treated to a satisfying wrap-up to this year’s six-part mystery of human trafficking, murders, blackmail, dead bodies in the ocean, and cheating hearts, Shetland may have pulled off its best scene of all in the final minutes of Tuesday’s season finale.  Airing for the first time in the U.S. as a weekly series on streaming service BritBox, the series is a rarity: a police procedural with a following in the States that survived five seasons.  It’s telling that the series has been renewed for a sixth season, which should air in the UK in the first half of next year, and a few months later in the U.S.

How can they keep coming up with such good police drama in such a small and desolate setting?  Credit for another good twisty mystery should be split between the writers, Shetland regulars David Kane and Paul Logue, the five cast members that have carried the series since the first episode back in 2013. and the stark natural beauty of the Shetland backdrop.  Better storytelling is difficult to find on TV, but the series knows how to juggle the murders, kidnappings, local and political leaders with deadly secrets, and the surprising interplay of international crime syndicates in Glasgow, Norway, and Africa.  Douglas Henshall continues to lead the series as the driven detective inspector Jimmy Perez, and this season he solidified his defining theme: Everyone is a suspect.  Often that nagging reality wedges its way into frustrating his most personal relationships.  Is there a better way to empathize with your hero than seeing him stuck looking into the eyes of someone he cares about, forced to question them about their honesty and possible participation in a murder?

The ongoing relationship between Perez and his step-daughter’s father Duncan only gets more complicated and interesting.  Mark Bonnar′s ability to portray Duncan as part sap, bungler, buffoon, sad sack, perpetual guy in the wrong place, and well-meaning everyman continues to cement Henshall and Bonnar as the best pairing and blend of buddy movie magic and chemistry since the Odd Couple.  For fans who can’t get enough of Alison O’Donnell′s curious, determined, savvy, and lovable detective sergeant Alison “Tosh” MacIntosh, season five was a welcome change for the character, getting her back in control of her life and rounding out a multi-season story arc with a new love interest and the next too-cute TV couple.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The three 90-minute episode television series is one of those staples of the BBC that is both refreshing and infuriating.  It’s refreshing because it avoids all the padding that is so commonplace among those direct-to-binge, 10-episode shows premiering regularly now on Netflix and other streaming providers.  But it’s infuriating to find a series that is so well written and produced, you love the characters and wish there was more.  Much like another great 4.5 hour series we loved, BBC’s 2011 series Zen starring Rufus Sewell (reviewed here at borg), in BBC’s Quirke, Gabriel Byrne inhabits his lead character in one of his best performances, leaving viewers wishing the series would have continued for a few more seasons.  First airing in the UK in 2014, Quirke is now available on the BritBox streaming service, along with Zen.

Byrne (Vikings, Assault on Precinct 13, The Usual Suspects) plays Dr. Quirke, the chief pathologist of the Dublin city morgue in the 1950s.  He has an affinity for alcohol, his brother’s wife, and solving murders, partnering on- and off-the-books with the local police inspector played by Stanley Townsend (Ashes to Ashes, Sherlock, Zen, Galavant).  In what feels like three gritty Irish noir movies, we learn about the doctor’s family struggles as his past and future collide, as he investigates an orphanage siphoning babies from Ireland to Boston, as he connects the deaths of two women found dead from suicides, and as he tracks down the whereabouts of a missing friend of his daughter.

The focus of Dr. Quirke’s life is the well-being of his niece, played by Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones, Vera), who is really his biological daughter, raised by his step-brother and his wife when the girl’s birth resulted in the death of Quirke’s wife 20 years ago.  Quirke was adopted into his family, and years later his father (played by Michael Gambon (Harry Potter series, Doctor Who, Cranford)) continues to treat him with disdain, but he hides his own secrets.  Along with the Professor Dumbledore actor, look for the actress behind Harry Potter’s mother (Geraldine Somerville) as Quirke’s sister-in-law, and the actress behind Batman’s mother in Batman Begins (Sara Stewart).  Other genre actors include Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story’s General Dodonna (Ian McElhinney) as an influential politico, Ella Enchanted and Mr. Selfridge’s Aidan McArdle as the politico’s nephew, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Life on Mars, and Master and Commander’s Lee Ingleby as one of the men attracted to Quirke’s daughter, and Merlin, Doctor Who, and Humans’ Colin Morgan as a journalist.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It aired in the UK in February and March, and it had been reported for several weeks that its fifth season was going to arrive on BritBox in April in the U.S.  The BBC′s unique crime series Shetland made it in the nick of time, with BritBox releasing the first episode yesterday.  Unfortunately BritBox didn’t drop all six Season 5 episodes, opting to air the series the old-fashioned way, with new episodes arriving every Tuesday.  It’s the kind of series to savor, so why not?

As advertised since last year, the multiple BAFTA-winning series’ key cast returns, with Shetland supercop/investigator DI Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) partnering again with DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) and DC Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson), this time to investigate the murder of a young man whose body parts have been found washed ashore around the island.  Welsh actress Rakie Ayola (Dredd, Doctor Who, Sea of Souls, Black Mirror) steps into the series as the season’s guest star, playing the boy’s estranged mother.  The first episode of the season does not disappoint, laying out the first of the clues that will lead DI Perez–and the audience–to find the killer before the series wraps with its sixth episode June 4.

Anglophiles wanting another reason to catch up with Shetland will find former and current cast on the series from both Doctor Who (Peter Capaldi, Steven Robertson, Mark Bonnar, Gemma Chan, Brian Cox, James Greene, Anthony Flanagan, Benjamin Cawley, and Susan Vidler) and Game of Thrones (Clive Russell, Ciarán Hinds, Jamie Michie, John Stahl, James Cosmo, and Chris Reilly).  Struan Rodger can boast roles on all three series.  The fourth season knocked out several great shows to be borg′s Best British/UK series of 2018.

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First airing in March 2013, BBC’s police procedural Shetland is part mystery, part action, part suspense drama set in the stark and beautiful Shetland Isles.  It follows detective inspector Jimmy Perez, played by Douglas Henshall, as he and detective sergeant “Tosh” MacIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) and detective constable Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson) solve unusual crimes in a rural part of the world that has its own set of rules.  Season 5 has begun on the BBC in the UK, and it will be coming to the U.S. delayed by only a few weeks, arriving this April.

The series is loosely based on characters and stories from a set of novels by Ann Cleeves.  We named season four of the series the best British/UK series of 2018 in our year-end wrap-up here at borg.  Take a look at our review of season four here.

BBC released a preview for the series’ next season.  After a gruesome discovery, Perez and his team track the murderer in a complex investigation.  Here’s the trailer for season 5 of Shetland:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders is now available for streaming in the U.S. on Amazon Prime.  Christie is renowned for the cozy mystery novel, but the 2017 three-part BBC series upends the cozy qualities of Christie’s trademark storytelling with the seemingly obligatory modernizing of the classics through a dark and grotesque filter.  If you’re revisiting Christie through the lens of something like Edgar Allan Poe, then it might make sense to you to swap out your familiar vision of the enduring detective hero Hercule Poirot for someone known for his whispering, creepy, and pretentious characters.  Someone like John Malkovich.  If you’re lucky, as was director Alex Gabassi (The Frankenstein Chronicles) and screenwriter Sarah Phelps (EastEnders), you might find Malkovich in one of his finer performances.

Malkovich, in a most reserved and dialed back performance, is perfect as Poirot at the end of his career, disgraced, derided, and reviled, shunned instead of adored in a time when the native Belgian was reviled in England in a wave of anti-immigrant hatred.  He is dark, moody, uncertain, nearly off his game as he begins to receive in his batch of daily love and hate mail a single set of letters from an unknown sender with violent intentions.  Now retired (this is Poirot in 1933) he seeks the aid of Scotland Yard, always helpful in the old days, to find one Inspector Crome, a twenty-something inspector played by 29-year-old Rupert Grint.  Poirot is out and Crome is in, until Crome realizes Poirot’s warnings of a killer taunting Poirot with murder victims and towns following laid out alphabetically were all spot on.  At last Grint makes his move into a mature role, and he does it believably well, holding his own opposite the incomparable mystique of Malkovich.  Joining Grint from the Harry Potter films is Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle) as the vile landlady of a creepy young man whose initials are A.B.C., played by Eamon Farren (Winchester, Twin Peaks), and who the story follows in parallel to Poirot’s pursuit.

Unfortunately the potentially interesting switch-up to the Modern is mired in unnecessary irrelevancies, including attempts at ambience at the expense of furthering the plot.  So prepare for overlong frames of lurid, exaggerated, repulsive, and vulgar wallowing in fluids, leering at every fathomable excess, regurgitations too numerous to count, an odd sex torture scene, tasteless dwelling on spilled urine and worse.  It becomes difficult to look over and around these additions to try to hone in on the point of the whole thing, the part that works: Christie’s clever mystery story.  Not surprisingly none of the excesses were in Christie’s original mystery.  The distractions are unfortunate, because Grint shows promise as a classic British character type he could possibly bank on for future roles, and Malkovich gives a good effort at an updated take on the character, complete with an acceptable mix of accents.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For fans of BBC’s four seasons of Shetland, while a fifth is in the works, a 2010 series available via Amazon and BritBox may fill in as a bit of a prequel to the Scottish crime drama.  Doctor Who fans may quirk a brow at the words The Silence, but the series villains are no relation to the tense crime drama co-starring Shetland’s Douglas Henshall and deaf actress Genevieve Barr.  The Silence is a four-episode series following Barr as 18-year-old Amelia.  Recently fitted with a cochlear implant, she is adjusting to the device during her “gap year,” the year between high school and college.  It’s a series notable for Shetland and Henshall fans because swap out the character’s DCI Jim Edwards for DI Jimmy Perez and you have basically the same British cop before he went off to Scotland.

DCI Edwards is Amelia’s uncle, and Amelia is staying with him, his wife Maggie (Doctor Who and Law & Order: UK’s Dervla Kirwan), and cousins Tom (Young Dracula’s Harry Ferrier), Joel (Doctors’ Tom Kane), and Sophie (Doctor Who’s Rebecca Oldfield), all while Amelia is attending appointments to practice use of her new hearing device.  Amelia hates it, a concept nobody quite grasps.  She sees being deaf as somewhat defining, a thing everyone else should accept, but her badgering parents, played by Gina McKee (MirrorMask, Emerald City) and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Doctor Who), are the ones who don’t hear.  While staying with her cousins Amelia witnesses a murder, and soon DCI Edwards realizes the likely murderers are within his own police department.

Amelia becomes more than a tangent player to the plot when she tells her uncle she can read the lips of two cops on CCTV footage, implicating several people, and putting Amelia’s life and her uncle’s family and danger, and worse for her uncle, subjecting him to threat of imprisonment per police regulations for not disclosing his niece as an eyewitness.  All of this happens in the series’ four hours, in a story probably better suited edited down into a movie-length production.  And yet it’s all fresh and new–a police procedural unlike any you’ve seen before.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Netflix has been carrying BBC’s British police procedural series Shetland on Netflix for a few years, but now is a good time to get caught up on the series’ first three seasons as Season 4 aired in February in the UK and is expected to arrive on Netflix soon for U.S. viewers.  Set in the remote Scottish Shetland islands, Shetland stars Douglas Henshall (Sea of Souls, Outlander, The Secret of Crickley Hall, Kull the Conqueror, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, who solves crimes against the dramatic backdrop of the Shetland Islands.  Based on a bestselling detective series by award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves, the series spotlights the stark landscape of remote Scotland and its small population, which must manage the big crime trouble of the far off Scotland metropolis of Glasgow, with far fewer resources.

The backbone of the series is the personable nature of Henshall’s cop as he wrestles with growing daughter Cassie (Erin Armstrong) who has a mind of her own, and the sparring he has over her in an almost spousal love-hate-bickering relationship with his deceased ex-wife’s second husband Duncan (Mark Bonnar).  Helping him dig into crimes is his right arm, DS Tosh McIntosh (Alison O’Donnell), who is part smart investigator and Glasgow street savvy and also very familiar with local norms, and next level down cop Steven Robertson as DC Sandy Wilson, who is trying to build his career path while routinely held back by his strange family and personal relationships.  Technology, a remote geography, and a culture removed from the rest of the country combines to create plenty of opportunities for resourceful police work by Perez and his team.

In the series’ third season Shetland hits its stride, combining the show’s regular cast of five recurring characters with a guest appearance by genre film star Ciarán Hinds, who drives the mystery for the bulk of the season.  Hinds boasts an impressive career in some of our favorite films, including Excalibur, Mary Reilly, The Sum of All Fears, Road to Perdition, The Phantom of the Opera, Munich, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Woman in Black, John Carter, Frozen, Game of Thrones, Justice League, First Man).

Although it’s not yet known when or if Season 4 will make it to Netflix, Season 4 is now available here via Amazon on Britbox.

Here is a brief trailer for Season 4–a Season 5 was in production this summer:

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