Case Histories, BBC One | TV reviews, news & interviews
Case Histories, BBC One
Kate Atkinson's likeable private eye solves crime quirkily in Edinburgh
Thanks to her evergreen bestseller Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson can call on an army of fans to buy her work whenever it appears in print. Its debut on screen is, perhaps, another matter. Will they buy the BBC’s rendition of Case Histories? Those who have not had the pleasure of reading it are less advantageously placed to grumble about hideous revisions, outrageous changes and all manner of infidelities. But even an Atkinson newbie might find it a bit rum that Scotland seems to be entirely populated by people with English accents.
Welcome to the BBC casting department's version of Edinburgh. At least the city played its part to the hilt. “Non le ciel n’est pas sodding bleu,” private detective Jackson Brodie advised the nice woman on the Teach Yourself French CD in his car. In the first of three two-part cases, Auld Reekie’s gloomy brickwork brooded darkly as Brodie pursued any number of loose ends and one lost cat.
Case Histories provides Jason Isaacs with a part that feels like a very snug fit. As Jackson Brodie - or Mr Brodie to his clients, in a drama that keeps faith with old-fashioned formalities - he is part hunk, part mess, all sleuth. A regular set of contradictions, he jogs and he smokes, he smiles and he scowls. Wife long gone, along with the police job, he has limited access to his daughter and the case files of mysteries he’s hired to solve. It’s not quite clear which frustrates him more. “You’re so desperate to belong,” Brodie’s old colleague (Amanda Abbington) told him, “but there’s something in your character that will never let you do that.” It’s good to have these things heavily signposted. A fiver says that something's to do with the haunting memories of a drowned sister, whom we saw being climactically fished out of a canal.
To crowbar three books into six hour-long episodes, there are times when it all feels that atmospherics and the finer brushstrokes have been sacrificed to the crude requirements of exposition. Brodie inherited his first case when, hired to look for an old bat’s cat, he heard screams in the neighbouring garden. “Everything OK?” he said, poking his head over the wall, and within two lines of dialogue he was on a new case. A diehard Atkinson fan may well, no doubt, write in to explain that’s exactly how it happened in the book; I’ve a hunch it was subtler.
As adapted by Ashley Pharaoh, Atkinson’s world view seems to encompass an ambivalent attitude to murder and other perversions. Yes, it was brutal and horrid to see a young woman have her throat slashed, blood spurting wiggly lines on the wall of her father’s law firm, thus sending Brodie on the hunt for a killer the police can’t track down. But the ghastliness has its frothy side too. Brodie has also been asked to investigate the long-unsolved disappearance of a little girl by her two posh sisters. Played for comedy by Natasha Little and Fenella Woolgar (pictured above), it was hard to buy into their anguish. Little’s character is flirting with Brodie without let-up, though not as successfully as a more pragmatic vamp who humped him simply so he would take on another missing person’s case.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Engaging series about portraiture in action captures subjects at a crossroads
Nick Read's long-stretch documentary on remote Russian prison life
Simon Schama campaigns and entertains, but does he explain?
ITV's historical drama is long on intrigue but short on action
Medical drama could have felt tiredly formulaic, but there's freshness in the well-worn tropes
Opening episode of Lord Sugar's business search is a corker
Batman origin story makes a promising start
A history of the Soviet space programme, and the story of one of its more unlikely participants
Maybe the post-Brody 'Homeland' might succeed after all
More tasty treats from the nicest contestants on television (this review contains spoilers)
A cult classic from the golden age of British TV drama
The universe, human life, everything: Brian Cox begins his biggest project yet