Re­view of the best of the week

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Tv + Radio - by Barry Did­cock

Death And Nightin­gales, BBC Two, Wed­nes­day, 9pm

You have to feel for Jamie Dor­nan. The North­ern Ir­ish ac­tor, so un­set­tling as sex killer Paul Spec­tor in dark 2013 crime se­ries The Fall, be­came a su­per­star of sorts two years later when he was cast as Chris­tian Grey in Fifty Shades Of Grey.

But so fixed is he in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion in that role that now ev­ery other part he takes seems to play out like some spin-off from the ooh-la-la film fran­chise.

Death And Nightin­gales is no dif­fer­ent. It’s easy to see why he was cast as Liam Ward in this three-part adap­ta­tion of Eu­gene McCabe’s ac­claimed 1992 novel – clue num­ber one: it’s writ­ten by Al­lan Cu­bitt, cre­ator of The Fall – but as last week’s open­ing episode drifted on­wards it was hard to take him and it se­ri­ously at points. Mo­ments of pon­der­ous di­a­logue and some clunky ex­po­si­tion didn’t help mat­ters.

Thank heav­ens, then, for co-star Matthew Rhys as con­flicted Billy Win­ters, Protes­tant owner of the County Fer­managh quarry where the Catholic Ward worked and fa­ther to the woman with whom Ward was in love: pale, in­tense Beth Win­ters (Ann Skelly), cel­e­brat­ing her 23rd birth­day on the day the drama opened.

The year, by the way, was 1885, so we were in an Ire­land as yet un­di­vided and still rel­a­tively un­trou­bled.

Beth’s mother was long dead and, dis­gusted by Billy’s drunken sex­ual ad­vances, she (Beth) had de­ter­mined to take mat­ters into her own hands. That Billy could never re­mem­ber th­ese events and any­way wasn’t her bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther – one of sev­eral key facts we learned in flash­back – doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, though there was enough nu­ance to the script and to Rhys’s per­for­mance to add shades of grey (sorry) to what might oth­er­wise have been a mono­chrome char­ac­ter. Billy is a drunk with dark long­ings who makes no se­cret of his re­li­gious big­otry, but in other ways he is right­eous and hon­est.

Those reser­va­tions aside, Death And Nightin­gales prom­ises twists and drama, so there’s no rea­son to stop watch­ing. A bishop vis­it­ing Billy hinted at Ward’s dark side and an open­ing dream se­quence (or was it?) in which Beth tried to force a pen­i­tent Billy to drink poi­son was a neat fore­shad­ow­ing of the pro­posal Ward appeared to make Beth as episode one closed.

Se­questered in a lochside cot­tage, naked in front of a fire af­ter hav­ing had sex to­gether for the first time, they cooked up a plan to drug Billy, steal his gold then flee to­gether across the sea. Or was there more to it than that? “One thing is cer­tain,” said Beth in a dra­matic clos­ing voiceover, “God will not smile on what is planned for tonight.” What dark deeds did she have in mind? Tune in next week to see.

Ann Skelly and Matthew Rhys in Death And Nightin­gales

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