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Wire In The Blood:
series one and two
cast: Robson Green, Hermione Norris

producer: Phil Leach

630 minutes (15) 2002 / 2004
widescreen ratio 16:9
Revelation DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
It's easy to dismiss Wire In The Blood as another off-the-shelf detective series. All the components are there, from the brilliant but socially inept main character Tony Hill to the police's inherent distrust of him, the internal rivalries within the unit he works with, the relationship between Hill and Detective Inspector Carol Jordan, the officer who calls him in and even the disturbing nature of the cases that he's asked to help out on.

It's a really pleasant surprise then to see that it's far more than the sum of its parts. Adapted from the novels by award-winning crime writer Val McDermid, the series expands and adapts their central ideas, creating a world which is as far from the traditional, slightly safe view of English crime fiction as it's possible to be. This is a world rooted in the 1980s, in the decade that saw the Miners' Strike scar relations with the police forever and the Yorkshire Ripper leave an indelible mark on the country.

It's this northern tone that's the first thing you notice about the series. Set in the fictional city of Bradfield, it marries the bleak, soul less grind of urban crime to a countryside that's as unforgiving as it is beautiful. The seven stories presented here see Hill and Jordan go everywhere from high rise flats to ruined abbeys, all convincingly placed within a unique part of the country.

This northern setting is married with a healthy dose of both political awareness and cynicism. Series two's The Darkness Of Light and Sharp Compassion both show exactly how little pull the police have when faced with the concerns of business and government whilst the near open conflict with the press is a crucial plot point in series one's Mermaids Singing. Without ever stating it outright, the series shows, time and again, the tiny sliver of space Hill and Jordan have to work in, constantly balancing the demand to solve the case with the political fallout it may cause.

This constantly shifting, uneasy background really sets the series apart from its competitors. It's thrown into sharp relief by Hill's constant patience and compassion for his patients, most notably a female serial killer who is desperate to remember where she buried her victims. Interestingly, the series also goes to great lengths to give Hill feet of clay. He's not infallible, he's not right all the time and at least one episode Still She Cries revolves around not only that but his complete inability to understand how people relate to one another. Hill is arrogant, compassionate, brutally honest and as damaged as he is fascinated by the people he's studying.

The cases themselves are uniformly strong, interesting problems. Series one adapts two of McDermid's novels and adds a third story Justice Painted Blind whilst series two changes format slightly, opting for four original stories. Of the seven, Mermaids Singing and Justice Painted Blind stand out from series one whilst The Darkness Of Light and Still She Cries are the standouts from series two.

Darkness in particular is a dizzying affair, taking in cults, ritual sacrifice and the splintering of the Church of England. It sails closest to the wind out of all the stories but everything you see does make sense and the script is brave enough to force you to do some of the work yourself. Likewise, Still She Cries is both a well-written, exciting detective story and an examination of how traumatic events can affect people.

Only Sharp Compassion, the final story of series two disappoints. Whilst it starts well, the combination of somebody using the natural mortality rate of Bradfield Hospital to conceal their murders, Tony finding his job in danger and post-September 11th terrorists simply doesn't hang together. Elements of it simply don't work and the ending is little more than a massive set of coincidences, none of which work overly well. What saves Sharp Compassion and massively helps the other stories, are the performances. Robson Green is still best known for his work on Soldier Soldier and his brief pop career but truly excels himself here. It would have been easy to play Tony Hill as an unconventional genius, a man continually tapping his foot waiting for the rest of the world to catch up but Green goes in exactly the opposite direction. His Hill isn't just a man who can't relate to the rest of the world, he knows it, knows that he's at his most comfortable when dealing with the horribly broken and it clearly terrifies him. Green plays the role with total honesty, bringing the repulsion and compassion Hill feels for his subjects to life in a hugely sympathetic way.

For all his strengths, he's almost outshone by Hermione Norris as DI Jordan. Jordan's a genuinely formidable presence in the series, Hill's intellectual equal but without the fascination that dogs him. She's relentless, constantly driving the investigations forward, constantly motivating or reasoning with Hill and her other officers. Refreshingly, Jordan is a character with no agenda apart from getting the job done and her gender never once comes into play. Like Hill though, she's damaged by what she sees and there's a beautifully handled moment where she finally cracks. In the middle of a conversation with Hill she stops the car, tells him to drive and changes seats. Her eyes brimming with tears as she sits back down she tells him it's a compliment and that she couldn't do this with anyone else.

With these two performances at its centre, some great scripts and a unique location, Wire In The Blood is one of the best pieces of detective fiction in years. It's unremittingly bleak, often very funny and orders of magnitude more complex than most series of its type. Highly recommended.

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