Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Last Night's Tele : Code of a Killer

Code of a Killer is the kind of ITV drama the channel can do in their sleep. It's just a shame therefore that they weren't more wide awake to do justice to the real life story the scientific breakthrough that would revolutionise police work the world over.

The drama tells the story of Dr Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of DNA profiling, meeting with DCS David Baker, a detective struggling to solve two linked murders in 1980s Leicestershire. Baker’s case has hit a brick wall: two teenage girls were raped and murdered in the same small town, three years apart, but the evidence, and suspects, are proving thin on the ground. As his tireless investigation comes to naught, we have the parallel storyline featuring Jeffreys equally tireless effort to make his theories on DNA stand up to scientific scrutiny.

As with a lot of these ITV crime dramas, there is an impeccable cast on display. John Simm, an actor I really like, plays Jeffreys, a bearded academic married to both Anna Madeley and his work, and not always in that order. I admire Simm's attempts to evade typecasting and broaden his range which has ostensibly occurred ever since he hung up his leather jacket in Life On Mars (a show which casts its shadow over the proceedings here with the recent history setting and Robert Glenister - brother of Phil aka Gene Hunt - playing a top brass copper) Since then he's portrayed the completely off his trolley incarnation of The Master in Doctor Who and a eyepatch wearing militiaman in The Devil's Whore, all a world away from his more traditional underplayed, contained screen persona. The role of Jeffreys affords him another change of pace as a bearded distracted and somewhat mannered scientist. Bit it doesn't always work to convince us and I think the reason for that is the script which offers him little to do except repeatedly explain the nature of the DNA code and genetic fingerprinting for the characters on the screen and the viewers at home. David Threlfall, whom Simm starred with back in the 90s in a rather lovely but largely forgotten sitcom entitled Men of the World, is on safer ground (familiar too given he played a copper in the recent, excellent BBC series What Remains) as DCS Baker, delivering a methodical and lugubrious character study which suggests a man who personally grieves for the victims he tries to get justice for.

Unlike a lot of these real life crime dramas that ITV make, Code of a Killer was NOT written by Jeff Pope, but by Michael Crompton instead who turns in a somewhat soggy, cliche ridden script that repeatedly hammers viewers over the head with the poor work/life ratio that Jeffreys has. In one wonderfully refreshing moment he pulls the rug from under our feet; Jeffreys receives a phone call from his wife, who we see sat at home in her coat, a suitcase by her side. "I'm leaving" she says...only for her to add "And you best be too" as it is revealed Jeffreys is simply late home for their family holiday and not, as we initially expected and suspected, about to lose his wife because of his obsessive research. Sadly this is the only time Crompton's script pulls this trick and it isn't long before we're back to the hoary old cliches which a dramatisation of a groundbreaking event in policing really does not deserve.

Despite the occasional flaw in the all too familiar script, Code of a Killer remains watchable thanks to the cast involved (along with Threlfall, Simm, Glenister and Madeley there's Inbetweeners star Lydia Rose Bewley, Lorcan Cranitch and Andrew Tiernan), the real circumstances it is depicting and some quality direction from James Strong, who maintains a sensitive touch, mindful of the victim's families, whilst still keeping a suspenseful pace for the sake of drama.  The period look of the 80s is also beautifully and authentically brought to the proceedings too.

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