Mayday, BBC One | TV reviews, news & interviews
Mayday, BBC One
Nightly rural mystery features the strange case of a Midsomer Killing
A drama that opens with the disappearance in the woods of a beautiful blonde teenage girl is going to evoke memories of Nanna Birk Larsen racing away from her murderer in The Killing. A drama set in a rural English village peopled by loamy eccentrics and sozzled toffs is likely to summon thoughts of Midsomer Murders. Put ‘em together and what have you got?
Mayday is working a nightly hourlong shift across the week. This is an occasional style of scheduling that works well so long as the story grabs the viewer by the throat and refuses to slacken its hold. Five Daughters, about the murder of five sex workers in Ipswich, took on a kind of propulsive force. Top Boy, featuring criminal gangs in Hackney, gripped like a vice. Five Days, on the other hand, felt like five weeks. And one has a twitchy feeling about Mayday. March when it starts, at this rate it may well feel like the eponymous May when it ends later this week.
So far we have been introduced to a teeming cast, although we don’t yet have a body. A case of habeas corpus (non). Nor do we even have much of a copper. Sophie Okonedo plays a constable who has long since left the force to look after her young brood. We can expect her detecting instincts to kick in soon – indeed she already smells a rat at the alarming antics of her husband (Peter McDonald), who’s also a bobby.
And so it goes for the rest of the village. Those acting oddly are precisely counterweighted by those who find their behaviour a bit fishy. Peter Firth gets sloshed in his loft while working on a model of the village, venturing out to the woods to “walk the dog”, actually to decorate a pagan den deep in the forest discovered by his nervy wife (Lesley Manville). Then there’s Aiden Gillen’s thoroughly shady ducker-and-diver, who won’t tell his teenage son what’s in the large bag he’s stashed in the locked cupboard. Indeed, the village sports the usual array of creeps, foaming weirdos and wide-eyed loons, often lurking in trees (pictured above right, for example). Plus the odd floppy-fringed teenager.
The concept behind the script by Ben Court and Caroline Ip is that a terrible crime in a tight community brings out in the innocent the instinct both to suspect and suppress. It’s a neat idea for spinning out the mystery. The snag is that this sort of thing is rather more intriguing when located in Scandinavia than in Sussex. A hallucinatory opening promises woozy stylistic trickery. The shortly-to-be-abducted May queen cycles through the village to meet her appointment with the Mayday float, as figures in the parade loom before her like scary denizens of the pre-Christian occult. Then Mayday settles down into a supermarket whodunwot full of actors who look as they couldn’t pick a Friesian out of a line-up of zebras.
- Mayday is on BBC One at 9pm until Thursday
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