Monday, 30 November -0001

Television Review: 31 August

Michael Moran discovers that September is peak season for middle-class murders

Written by Michael Moran

Michael-Moran1The BBC dominates our current TV schedules with the insuperable Parade's End (Fridays). The glossy BBC/HBO co-production continues with its winning mixture of stiff upper lips and rumpled corsets this week. It really is glorious television. Don't miss it.

So, now we've established that, what dramatic gems do the BBC's great rivals have to offer us?

Mrs Biggs (Wednesday 5 September, ITV1) is a period drama about Charmian Biggs, wife of train robber and escapologist Ronald. We all have a fair idea how this story ends, but it's illuminating, and frankly alarming, to see how it started. Beginning with a chance flirtation on a train between the downtrodden daughter of an upwardly mobile family and a smooth-talking jailbird it escalates more quickly than anyone might expect. Or, for that matter, like.

Sheridan Smith is always a winning presence on screen, and is justly top-billed here. Daniel Mays seems to have been born to play historical wide boys, with that natural Marcel wave and his puppyish yet somehow unscrupulous demeanour. He's great as Biggs.

Adrian Scarborough, who shone as a slightly stiff-necked butler in Upstairs Downstairs, has a small but pivotal role as Charmian's even more stiff-necked father.

This five-parter lacks the historical sweep and, for that matter, the ravishing costume possibilities that Parade's End can boast, but it's deliciously made and compellingly played. And it's heartening to hear how beautifully-spoken our villains were in the 1960s.

At this late stage, we're unlikely to become Edwardian aristocrats, or for that matter 1960s train robbers. The dilemma portrayed in A Mother's Son (3 and 4 September at 9pm, ITV) could affect almost any of us. Hermione Norris is reunited with former Spooks comrade Nicola Walker but they're on very different sides of the fence this time.

Norris plays Rosie, a harassed mother trying to hold down a job and simultaneously forge a family with her new husband Ben (Martin Clunes) and his children.

That can be difficult enough, but when a murder takes place in their quiet seaside town, and Rosie suspects that a member of her family may be responsible, the stage is set for some tense and thought-provoking drama.

Rosie has something of a gift for amateur detective work, but as we often see that is a gift that's difficult to endure.

Nicola Walker is the actual police detective at the heart of the case and Paul McGann adds to the starry cast as David, Rosie's ex-husband.

I don't know why grim tales of middle-class murderers are so 'right' for autumn evenings, but they are. And A Mother's Son is no exception. I don't think it's a coincidence that Southwold looks as if it could be Denmark in this production. If you were gripped by Scandinavian goosefleshers such as The Killing, A Mother's Son is just the thing for you.

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