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Massive build-up, but a big letdown

I'm beginning to suspect that the casting directors of British television dramas have a special software programme designed to match a character stereotype with a suitable actor at the click of a mouse.

Looking for someone to play a haggard, workaholic homicide detective? Click. Up comes Douglas Henshall. How about his pushy and ambitious wife? Click. Dervla Kirwan.

Need an anxious mother? Click. It's Gina McKee, a woman whose default setting is anxiety. And last, but not least, the teenager's long-suffering dad, a hapless nice guy who never seems to get what's going on. Click. Hugh Bonneville -- sorted!

The four of them turn up in just such roles in The Silence, a new thriller that's being "stripped", as they say in Tellyland, across four consecutive nights on BBC1. While all four are fine actors in their own way, they're also wearingly over-familiar.

Henshall played practically the same part in last year's Collision, while McKee had a similar role in last week's Dive to the one she's got here. But over-familiarity with the cast isn't the only problem with The Silence.

There's also the lame, derivative plot and the funereal pacing. The first episode didn't so much move at a leisurely pace as drag itself along like an arthritic snail trying to conquer the Rockies.

Promising newcomer Genevieve Barr, who was born deaf, plays 18-year-old Amelia, who's recently had a cochlear implant operation and is having difficulty adjusting to the new soundscape swirling around her.

She hears everything, yet at the same time hears nothing. Walking into a crowded party, her ears are assailed by a cacophony of buzzing chat and blaring music, every individual sound seemingly amplified to the nth degree.

When it becomes too much, Amelia switches off the processor she wears behind her ear and reverts to signing and lip-reading -- to the irritation of her counsellor.

Whoever designed the sound for The Silence has done an excellent job of conveying the sense of what it must be like to live in a world of noisy isolation. But aside from this single, novel aspect, it's hackneyed stuff.

In an effort to bring Amelia out of her shell, her parents pack her off a couple of evenings a week stay with her aunt and policeman uncle.

While out walking the couple's dog, Amelia witnesses the murder of a young woman. It turns out the victim is a policewoman who Amelia had earlier spotted getting intimate with a man at a boxing gym.

The great mystery is not whodunit, but why Amelia doesn't immediately tell her uncle, the cop. Maybe that's the price you pay for stretching a thin story over four nights. Silence can be golden -- it can also be tedious.

Also running throughout the week is The Seahorseman, four-part documentary tracing the efforts over a number of years of marine biologist Kealan Doyle to save a species of seahorse from near-certain extinction by breeding and exporting his own.

Doyle and his business partner Kevin Maher started their company, Seahorse Ireland, from a small cottage in Connemara, but struggled with a variety of business and logistical difficulties -- not least the fact that seahorses are difficult to cultivate. There's some wondrous footage here, especially the sight of a male seahorse giving birth.

It's captivating to watch, yet because the emphasis is on Doyle's business struggles rather than the remarkable creatures, The Seahorseman quickly sinks to become just another routine company-in-crisis series.


The Silence **

The Seahorseman **