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TV Review: ITV... the new capital of crime

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ITV

ITV

LIFE of Crime (Friday, ITV, 9pm): MENTION ITV and the first things that spring to mind are The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. But if you can push Simon Cowell's domination of the weekend schedules aside – and I wish someone would, preferably with a bulldozer – it's clear good things are happening at the BBC's biggest and oldest commercial rival.

ITV is rapidly staking a claim as television's capital of crime. Endeavour, the 1960s-set prequel to Inspector Morse, has been a runaway success, racking up an audience of six million during its four-week run.

Broadchurch was an even bigger phenomenon, with close on 10 million people in Britain alone tuning in to the finale. Unless a programme is a soap or a talent show, those are the kind of ratings about which television executives fantasise.

 

Mix

This week, ITV unveils two new crime dramas within the space of 24 hours. The one that's probably least likely to pull in a Broadchurch-sized following is the two-part Murder on the Home Front (tonight, 9pm).

Very loosely based on the memoirs of Molly Lefebure, who was secretary and Girl Friday to British Home Office forensic pathologist Dr Keith Simpson during the Blitz, it's a curious mix of Foyle's War and Call the Midwife, with a dash of Silent Witness to thicken the plot.

Simpson, who was a pioneer in the field of forensics, is fictionalised as Dr Lennox Collins (Patrick Kennedy), a smart young pathologist whose progressive scientific techniques infuriate his boss and baffle the local constabulary, who are accustomed to clumping around crime scenes in their size-12 PC Plod boots, unwittingly destroying vital evidence.

Molly Lefebure here becomes Molly Cooper (a dismayingly wooden Tamzin Merchant), a would-be crime reporter Collins recruits as his sidekick to investigate a string of particularly gruesome murders: someone is butchering what used to be called goodtime girls and carving swastikas into their tongues.

Murder on the Home Front is an uneasy blend of jaunty period drama (lots of brown overcoats, red buses and vintage telephone boxes) and murder mystery, spiked with frankly jarring shafts of black humour.

It would probably go down well with the Sunday night cocoa-and-cardigan audience, were it not for the graphic, close-up shots of surgical scalpels slicing into naked corpses.

There's the odd red bus and vintage telephone box in Life of Crime (tomorrow, 9pm) as well, although they can't completely disguise the fact that portions of this three-parter were filmed in Dublin. It's hugely promising stuff, though, that adopts the novel approach of following the career of a policewoman, played by the excellent Hayley Atwell, across 28 years.

 

Rookie

In tomorrow's opener, it's 1985. Thatcher is in office, Bruce Springsteen and Culture Club are on the radio, there are riots on the streets of Brixton, and rookie WPC Denise Woods, whose late father was on the force, has just started in the job.

She quickly finds herself rubbing up against the sexism of her male colleagues – literally, in one scene. Her boss, a ranting DI played by Con O'Neill, doesn't think much of her, telling her she's not even a proper copper and should stick to answering the phone and making tea.

When a 15-year-old girl turns up dead and her father is arrested for her murder, Denise is convinced her superiors have got the wrong man and risks her career by mounting her own investigation. Her only ally is sympathetic DS Ray Deans (Richard Coyle, rocking the wildest haircut this side of The Simpsons' Sideshow Bob).

For much of the first episode, Life of Crime looks like it's going to be a standard police procedural. In the final five minutes, however, the plot makes a completely unexpected swerve that ensures you won't want to miss next week's episode, which picks up the story in 1997.


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