Drawn into the mind of a psy­cho­pathic school­boy

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Screengrab - Ben Lawrence

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

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