Another week, another murder mystery, another pile of human remains unearthed from the rubble. But, despite the slightly rubbish name (it’s better than Reremembered, I suppose) and deceptively over-familiar premise, Unforgotten has the makings of one of the best British dramas of the age. While Anne-Marie Duff valiantly struggles to make a silk purse from the hoary old jumble of clichés that is the BBC’s From Darkness, the equally wonderful Nicola Walker finds herself fronting what I confidently predict will be this year’s Broadchurch (which, let’s face it, Broadchurch decisively wasn’t).
At the heart of the mystery is the skeleton of a young man uncovered beneath the basement of a London home. ‘Are we talking Richard III or five years?’ asked DCI Cassie Stuart (Walker). ‘It could be 5,000 years,’ warned the forensic archaeologist.
When does a cold case become ancient history? For Cassie – ably assisted by Sanjeev Bhaskar as her loyal DS – it doesn’t matter: a victim is a victim. And when the body is eventually identified as a young black man who went missing in the 1970s, she is determined – quietly, doggedly, unshowily determined – to get him justice.
Around this central through-line, writer Chris Lang weaves a number of seemingly disparate plot threads, performed by a Who’s Who of Brit acting talent, including Trevor Eve as a gruff, bearded, self-made millionaire in the Lord Sugar mould, Tom Courtenay and Gemma Jones as a retired couple struggling with disability and dementia, and Bernard Hill as a vicar with a mysterious hole in his church finances. Only in the dying moments of the first episode were the strands in this tangle of secrets and lies drawn together, as all were revealed to be names in the dead teenager’s diary.
Touching on everything from cash-for-peerages to inner-city gangs and racial hatred, Unforgotten has an unusually broad remit that lifts it above the standard police procedural fare, while Walker makes an immediate impact in the crowded market of TV ’tecs. When she first laid eyes on a photograph of the long-lost victim, and addressed him directly – ‘Hello Jimmy – let’s get you home, shall we?’ – her eyes pricked with tears. Which actually shows great restraint, as I was a snotty mess by this point. A triumph.
Sir Alex Ferguson: Secrets of Success
This fawning hagiography saw the great and the good (and Tony Blair) lining up to touch the hem of football’s most feted manager, who has found a new career extolling the virtues of the hairdryer treatment to Harvard business students, billionaire venture capitalists and their ilk. All Nick Robinson managed to tease out here, though, was a series of bland platitudes on the importance of teamwork, dedication, discipline and suchlike, which left me feeling like I’d just sat through the world’s most A-list PowerPoint presentation.
A Very British Romance with Lucy Worsley
Ever eager to pop on a mobcap or a periwig in the cause of historical research, Lucy Worsley is back plundering history’s dressing-up box for this sparky new series telling the history of romance since its invention (at least in the form we know it today) in the 18th century.
Worsley’s trademark head girl enthusiasm is infectious: I forget exactly why, at one point, she was thrashing about on a mechanical ‘chamber horse’, wielding a riding crop – but it’s not the sort of thing you imagine David Starkey would agree to (more’s the pity).
Published in Waitrose Weekend, October 15, 2015
(c) Waitrose Weekend