Since its arrival on our Sky/Cable screens last year, The Drama Channel has specialised in repeating rarities from the BBC and ITV vaults within the last 30 years. Sitcoms like Brush Strokes and 2 Point 4 Children, dramas like the wartime espionage serial Wish Me Luck and vintage Casualty and adaptations of literary classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and The Forsyte Saga have all provided pleasant alternatives to the usual offerings on terrestrial TV. Currently Drama are showing adaptations of Minette Walters crime thrillers each weekend, commencing with 1997's The Ice House last weekend.
Barbara Broccoli is on record I believe as claiming that it was Daniel Craig's breakthrough performance in Our Friends In The North that placed him so fixed in her mind when it came to casting him as the sixth actor to play James Bond, yet I'd actually argue that there are more similarities with 007 in his role here than their are with poor old Geordie of Our Friends...
As The Ice House's damaged and dogged, alcoholic young detective, Craig gets to perform that rather offensive old Fleming fixation (as seen in Goldfinger) of 'turning' a lesbian - or at least in this case, getting some loving with a man hating bisexual who claims to be a lesbian. He even has a Scottish brogue in common with Connery, albeit one he occasionally struggles with. Iffy accent aside, he's very convincing in the role - one can even feel his hangover! - and its easy to see from here just how big screen international fame would be in the offing for him. Craig just had that certain something right from the off.
Lizzie Mickery's adaptation of Minette Walters murder mystery thriller is imbued with an oppressive and grim air of prejudice, secrecy and scaremongering that gives the production a distinctively different approach to the usual 'big house murder in a small village' that, as a nation, we're familiar with thanks to more twee genteel course taken by Agatha Christie and Midsomer Murders.
Of course The Ice House isn't just Craig's show, at the heart of the film are the three women at the 'big house' who are looked upon as a dangerous lesbian and murderous coven and they're played by the classy trio of Penny Downie, Frances Barber and Kitty Aldridge, the latter of whom is the hardbitten, cynical and intelligent femme fatale who piques Craig's romantic interest. It could be cliche, and it does wander over towards it from time to time - especially with Walters seeming determination to depict most men as sex starved sexist pigs - but some assured playing from the pair make this a resonant exploration of instant and instictive attraction which helps reawaken Craig as a functioning and sensitive human being. It also helps that there are some killer lines between the pair, such as their first exchange when Craig bluntly claims to have nothing against 'Dykes' as he puts it, "I just wouldn't put my finger in one" and later when Aldridge puts forward several reasons as to why they're not a good match, ending with "And I fart in bed"
Also of note is the late great Corin Redgrave as Craig's DCI. He adopts an Insp. Wexford carrot crunching accent and its quite amusing to see the former Workers Revolutionary Party prime mover mention with disdain how one of their suspects has links with just such a party!
Look out for another actor who, like Craig, would go on to bigger things, James D'Arcy appears here as Downie's son. At the time, he appeared in quite a few BBC1 mystery dramas including the second ever episode of Dalziel and Pascoe, An Advancement of Learning, superbly adapted for the screen by Alan Plater which, ironically, I watched whilst on holiday last week.
The Minette Walters season has continued on Drama with The Scold's Bridle on Saturday night and, on this coming Saturday, The Sculptress.