Unforgotten duo Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar tackle the fallout from a 25-year-old murder in their second series
Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar go back to the 1990s for another cold case series.
The new series of ITV’S hit cold-case drama,
Unforgotten, begins with a grim discovery: a body in a suitcase that’s been sitting at the bottom of a river. When DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DS Sunil ‘Sunny’ Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) attend the scene, at a picnic spot by the River Lea in North East London, it becomes clear that the corpse, which has been partly preserved by the silt, could have been there for decades.
“It was really disturbing,” Nicola Walker ( River, Spooks) tells Crime Scene. “Everybody around [ during filming] seemed to think it was completely ordinary to be looking at this fat-covered skeleton. I’m not queasy about things like that, but that body was very unsettling.”
The investigative duo only have a couple of clues to identify the mystery body: a pager and a wristwatch carrying the markings of a repairer.
“The pager is found within this fatty deposit that’s grown around the skeleton,” says Walker. “You realise how much technology has moved on. We have a fabulous young technician, who’s actually a friend of my character’s son, so we go to this young kid on the Tottenham Court Road and he helps us out.”
While the detectives try and find a name, writer and creator Chris Lang also introduces several other characters – a lawyer, a detective, a nurse and a schoolteacher, spread across London, Brighton and the Cotswolds – who are connected to the historical crime. The guest stars include Mark Bonnar ( Shetland), Rosie Cavaliero ( Prey) and Lorraine Ashbourne ( The Interceptor).
“There was a point at which, every time I sat down with each of those people, I thought: Bafta nomination,” Bhaskar says, of the cast. “With those individual stories, they are quite unexpected in the way that they unfold. The people of interest this time around are kind of pillars of society.”
Questioning a fellow officer who was married to the dead man is a particular challenge for Stuart and Khan.
“Dealing with another police officer makes the dynamic of those scenes really interesting,” Bhaskar reflects, of their meeting with DI Tessa Nixon (Ashbourne), “because it was somebody who knew what we were thinking before we had said it.”
“It’s really interesting,” Walker agrees. “She knows that I’m already thinking of her as a suspect, because she would be. She’s thinking in parallel with Cassie, which is difficult but doesn’t actually seem to phase Cassie in the slightest.”
In fact, the duo are both thoroughly professional detectives, unlike many of the more troubled TV cops.
“What I really liked about the characters the first time around was how unremarkable they were,” says Bhaskar. “So many cop shows need to have a hook for the main characters – gambling or a drink problem. [ Our show] focuses a lot more on the case and the people of interest.”
Yet the job does affect Stuart and Khan’s domestic lives, particularly that of Cassie, who is divorced and now lives with her father (played by Peter Egan).
“Cassie’s very worried about her father,” Walker says, “he’s behaving out of character and the policewoman in her starts to come out in the relationship with him – she can’t help herself.”
Although she played a lead role in Paul Abbott’s Touching Evil 20 years ago, Walker has enjoyed a major breakthrough during the past year, with Series 1 of ITV’S Unforgotten and BBC One’s River airing at the same time.
“River was a self-contained story,” she reflects, “it may well come back but it wouldn’t involve my character.”
Bhaskar is perhaps best known for comedy – Walker says he “makes me laugh a lot” – but has also had several crime roles ( Midsomer Murders, Silent Witness, Lewis) and describes himself as a “fan of detective shows since I was a kid”. He even sees a hint of Nordic Noir in Unforgotten.
“There was so much focus on not just the people who are potentially of interest but also their families,” he explains, “it felt very much like a Scandi [ drama] but done in a very British way.”
Of course, with a six-part series arc, Unforgotten is also a classic British whodunit. Bhaskar says he was getting pestered by his wife, Meera Syal – also a star of Broadchurch – for the solution during Series 1. But he kept the secret to himself and is confident no one will guess the identity of Series 2’s killer.
“As you’re reading the scripts, you’re thinking ‘it’s going to be him’ [ but] much like the first script, I couldn’t work it out,” says Bhaskar. “You’re kept wondering until the end.”
“The people of interest this time around are kind of pillars of society”
Bhaskar says that their characters are “unremarkable” but the show’s strength lies in its realistic approach.