Drawn into the mind of a psychopathic schoolboy
Born to Kill Channel 4, Thursday
ever judge a TV programme by its title. sounded like the name of one of those lurid documentaries you get on the Crime and Investigation Channel about serial killers and their sad journeys from abusive childhoods to ritual murder. In fact, it was a thoughtful, disarmingly low-key new drama series, written by Tracey Malone and Kate Ashfield, about a 16-year-old boy called Sam, who has inherited his father’s psychopathic tendencies.
Sam was played with a brilliant sense of control by Jack Rowan: his every facial expression betrayed a creepy watchfulness; each sentence he uttered was framed with unerring politeness. The effect for the viewer was rather dreamlike – it felt as if we were being drawn slowly into the dark recesses of Sam’s mind.
In the first episode (of four), he befriended the class outcast, a chess champion, and showed interest in new girl Chrissy (Lara Peake), a defiantly angry teenager who tried to burn down the school laboratory. Sam wanted to take the blame, presumably because, despite his tender years, he has learnt that you can manipulate the vulnerable.
I am not sure whether Born to Kill is psychologically accurate. It seemed rather too neat that Sam’s first kill, a frail pensioner in the hospital where his mother worked, should coincide with his violent father’s release from prison.
More effective was the way in which Sam had built up a mythology around his father (whom his mother had led him to believe was dead), carelessly altering his narrative each time. Sam told people his father had
Ndied in Afghanistan. Sometimes he said he’d been shot, while on other occasions he claimed his father had trodden on a landmine.
Viewers will be used to seeing Romola Garai – who took the role of Sam’s mother, Jenny – playing confident, clever women. She has a youthfulness about her which was still evident here, but overlaid with a carefully calibrated weariness. Seldom smiling, she fretted her way through tense conversations with silky liaison officers and condescending teachers. Subtly, the script hinted at the powerlessness of the working-class single mother and the broad-brush attitude of authorities who insist they know best.
The drama didn’t offer much in the way of light relief. Daniel Mays as Bill, a detective inspector and single father to Chrissy, tried to lighten the mood by asking Jenny out for a coffee. “I could probably stretch to a custard tart,” he whimpered, only to be met with a bemused stare. Here, everyone seemed reluctant to be hauled out of their misery and frivolous language went unrewarded.
Born to Kill is one of those super-serious dramas which continue to dominate British TV. Any foreigner assuming that Apple Tree Yard, Line of Duty and The Replacement were representative of our society would deduce that the famous British sense of humour is seriously in decline. Yet, Born to Kill is superior to any of the above shows. It doesn’t rely on shock tactics, and I doubt that it’s going to pull the metaphorical rug from under the viewer’s feet to show how clever it is.
It’s a slow-burning study of a damaged mind, hauntingly shot and beautifully acted.
Vhas been described as sexy and stylish. It isn’t, unless your idea of sexy and stylish is watching the man from accounts dance to Barry White at the office Christmas party. With a slight reduction in gratuitous nudity, the drama returned for a second series this week and Louis XIV (George Blagden, sounding like a public schoolboy trying to level with the plebs by adopting an estuary accent) was considering how history would remember him.
“The king will write his epitaph in stone, or he will write it in blood,” he gasped as the music swelled to a knowing crescendo.
Versailles is packed with such portentous dialogue, much of which doesn’t make any sense. “I’m sure whatever role I occupy in the King’s life holds no candle on your own,” said the King’s mistress to the betrayed Queen.
“I’m happy to say I stopped holding candles many years ago, Madame,” came the reply.
Unfortunately, Versailles is not quite bad enough to be enjoyable. Like other high-camp histories such as The Tudors and The Borgias (the recent one with Jeremy Irons, not the famously awful BBC version of the early Eighties which at least made you snigger at its incompetence), there is a degree of professionalism which prevents the whole thing from descending into farce. The actors utter the terrible dialogue with the utmost conviction, with
Born to Kill is superserious, like Apple Tree Yard and Line of Duty – but better