The Daily Telegraph

With Sinéad Keenan, Unforgotte­n will thrive

- Anita Singh

‘Iam aware of the boots that I’m filling,” says DCI Jessica James in this new series of Unforgotte­n (ITV). Those boots belonged to Cassie Stuart, played by Nicola Walker, who was killed off in dramatic style at the end of series four. More than nine million viewers watched her demise. So it’s a big pair of boots we’re talking about here.

But writer Chris Lang has done a clever thing. Knowing that most of the audience, and all of the team at Bishop Street station, think that Cassie is irreplacea­ble, Lang hasn’t attempted a like-for-like swap. Instead, DCI James is awful. Sharp, dismissive, and downright rude to DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar), Britain’s most placid detective.

Lang has also done two things to stop us hurling our tea at the screen and swearing off the show forever. Firstly, we learn from the outset why James is behaving this way: her “dirtbag husband” chose her first day in the new job to announce that he’s been having an affair. Secondly, we have Sinéad Keenan in the role, a fine actress who manages to gain our sympathy even while she’s glowering her way through team briefings.

Some shows fail when they try to carry on with a new lead – Morecambe detective drama The Bay hasn’t been the same since Morven Christie was replaced by another actress, Marsha Thomason – but Unforgotte­n will thrive. Keenan is great, Bhaskar provides continuity, and the format is unshakeabl­e: the discovery of a body, followed by the introducti­on of characters from different walks of life, whose links to one another are slowly revealed over the course of a series.

We see a mugger with a heroin addict for a girlfriend. A warehouse worker and taxi driver trying to make a living in Paris. A political grandee keeping secrets about his health. The owner of a bustling restaurant, hoping to turn the business into a successful chain. All are somehow connected to the discovery of a woman’s body in the chimney of a house under renovation in Hammersmit­h, which is where Sunny and James (I’m sorry, I just don’t know her well enough yet to call her by her first name) first meet. Sunny asks the pathologis­t if the victim could be Victorian. “Dick Van Dyke’s little brother, you mean?” snorts James. These two aren’t going to get along.

Every time James’s brusquenes­s gets a bit much, though, we return to her marital breakdown and marvel at the fact she hasn’t fallen apart. The dirtbag husband (down as “My Gorgeous Hubby” in her phone – she might want to change that) isn’t taking her calls. She’s trying to handle the new job and pretend to her children that everything is fine. In every other TV drama, she’d be necking wine at the designer kitchen island 10 seconds after she walks through the door. But Unforgotte­n is more normal than that, so James at least sits down at the kitchen table with her mum before she pours the rioja.

Keenan is entirely believable in the role. Unforgotte­n also delivers one of the most realistic depictions of London that you’ll see on screen: not Richard Curtis’s twee London, nor Luther’s bleak London, just London as it is: rich and poor, middle class and underprivi­leged, co-existing in this city.

Oof, there’s some clunky politics, though. At the top of the tree is Lord Hume, played by Ian Mcelhinney. “Tony Hume? The Tory guy? My local library was shut down because of that t---,” says James. When he offers financial help to a disadvanta­ged teenager, the boy’s mother throws it back in his face by complainin­g that the Tories have defunded schools, hospitals and social care, a speech so obviously shoehorned into the script that it will make your toes curl.

Thankfully, Mcilhenney is too good an actor to play Hume as a caricature. There are no weak links in the cast (and this show does bring in the names: Hayley Mills makes an appearance as Hume’s wife). Rhys Yates is particular­ly good as Jay, introduced to us as he robs a woman’s handbag to fund his girlfriend’s habit. Not the sort of character to whom we instinctiv­ely warm, yet by the end of the series Yates has shown us how Jay got into this situation, and your heart will go out to him just a little bit.

I hope it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the relationsh­ip between Sunny and James eventually defrosts. There are plenty more series in this one yet.

Unforgotte­n ★★★★

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 ?? ?? Sinéad Keenan, Georgia Mackenzie and Sanjeev Bhaskar star in ITV’S crime drama
Sinéad Keenan, Georgia Mackenzie and Sanjeev Bhaskar star in ITV’S crime drama

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