“Fat, embittered, heavy-drinking, middle-aged male detective. Do you know how much of a cliché that is”
Part of Anne-Marie Duff’s triple-fronted return to prominence (cf Suffragette and Husbands and Sons), BBC1 drama From Darkness sees her take the lead in the psychological crime drama from Katie Baxendale. Running away from unhappiness, former police constable Claire Church has made a new life for herself on a remote Scottish island with the ruggedly handsome Norrie and his daughter but the revival of a decades-old case inexorably draws her back to the darkness to longs to flee.
Trying to skewer traditional notions of female victimhood in crime dramas, Baxendale curiously opts for a storyline based on the serial killings of prostitutes and never really manages to put enough clear water between From Darkness and others in the genre. And tied up as it is with trying to explore the repercussions of letting fear overwhelm us, the show can’t quite overcome its desire to slot into the fairly conventional strictures of your standard police procedural with all its daft contrivances.
So despite being retired from the force, Duff’s pill-popping Church is soon rattling around as if she owns the place and the investigation, under the instigation of Johnny Harris’ conflicted DCI Hind with his own troubled past intimately connected to Claire’s. Luke Newberry’s green DS Boyce offers a much-needed measure of comic relief, his Oxbridge nature ill-suited to the realities of Greater Manchester policing and Caroline Lee-Johnson’s coldly efficient Superintendent is ace at just getting shit done.
But Baxendale stretches her main character too far to really convince – the push/pull of past/present is never satisfactorily explored, giving Claire a rather schizophrenic outlook that is often baffling and at worse unconvincing. The opening episodes make great use of the moody beauty of Western Isles (and Richard Rankin’s scruffily gorgeous Norrie) so it’s a shame that the majority of the story is then Manchester-based, missing the opportunity to really tie the two ends of her conflict together.
The matter of the serial murders is certainly proficiently done, red herrings aplenty as we push towards the final episode, but the dénouement suffers an essentially fatal crisis of improbability on multiple fronts, falling back on ridiculously hackneyed clichés of maverick policing. Disappointingly, it’s hard not to feel that Baxendale is trying to have her cake and eat it in the way things resolve for the crimes in the past and in the present and as for the ending, Duff deserves much better for the work she’s put in here.