Mayday mayday, a five-part drama that's a crime against thrillers
The quietly gripping Broadchurch and subtitles that speak volumes
Long drawn-out: Aidan Gillen and Leila Mimmack in the series Mayday, which was two episodes too long
Perhaps I have watched too many crime dramas, but any time a station radically changes its schedule to make room for a series, I suspect all is not right. So when Mayday, a five-part murder mystery, aired this week on consecutive nights on BBC One, it had all the signs of a TV executive thundering that, yes, although it cost a fortune, it turned out to be a bit rubbish so it was best to get it over with as quickly as possible.
And Mayday was a clunker: as subtle as Midsomer Murders and as edgy as an episode of Lewis . The topnotch cast, including Aidan Gillen, Peter McDonald and Sophie Okonedo, were reason enough to tune in, but the first episode, on Sunday night, killed it.
The ethereal May queen Hattie – Leila Mimmack miscast as a 14-year-old but looking a very mature 20 – was cycling through an idyllic English village on her way to the May Day parade, and she disappeared. Episode two generated some vague suspense about whether she had run off, but she was later found murdered. And there were deranged-looking potential killers everywhere: Gillen, the shifty next-door neighbour with an evil glint in his eye; the mild-mannered policeman (McDonald) who left a bloody shirt in the laundry basket; the town’s forest-dwelling crazy person, who stared and mumbled a lot; her dodgy-looking dad, the creepy teen next door; her unlikable vigilante uncle, with his bad skin and hacked haircut; the property developer in his attic making a model of his ghost estate, complete with a teeny model of a girl hanging from a teeny tree.
So many potential murderers, so much time: five drawn-out hours of telly to get to whodunit. And with so many characters hamming it up in the spotlight from the start, they all had storylines that needed tying up, with varying degrees of credibility. The supernatural overlay, in which pebbles kept dropping from the sky or the ceiling into the lap of Hattie’s twin as a sign from beyond the grave, was just annoying.
I won't give away the ending, although you’d have guessed it by episode three, because the five-consecutive-nights structure means most people with any sort of lives probably recorded it for later viewing. And if you have, and are still keen, watch episodes two, four and five. The rest is just padding.
There was no need to watch Mayday anyway, as Broadchurch (UTV), the far superior crime drama, began on Monday. The setting is an idyllic seaside town; Det Sgt Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) arrives back from maternity leave to find not the promotion she expected but a newcomer, DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant), in her place. He’s been moved from the big smoke after some as-yet-unnamed mistake, and on his first day the body of a young boy is found. As TV cop couples go, they make an interestingly prickly team, her quietly indignant at being pushed aside while trying to hide her emotional response to the death – the boy was her son’s playmate – and him, the chippy outsider, insensitive to the nuances of small-town life.
The murder shakes the community, revealing secrets hidden under the surface and exploring the impact on a town and a family when the national media descends. There’s a touch of the Danish crime drama about the eight-part Broadchurch : the unhurried pace, the character-driven plot and the underlying assumption that the viewer is actually quite intelligent and doesn’t need to be told every single thing. Unlike Danish dramas, which are relentless in their grey-sky gloom, Broadchurch is filmed in seaside summer brightness. It’s a perfect counterpoint to the grim story.