London On The Box: Anna Friel In Marcella And Adrian Lester In Undercover

By Stuart Black Last edited 22 months ago
London On The Box: Anna Friel In Marcella And Adrian Lester In Undercover

Monday night murder hasn't looked quite as good as it does in Marcella for quite some time. This new London-set thriller from ITV sees Anna Friel as the title character, a policewoman with personal problems caught up in a quietly compelling story by Sweden's Hans Rosenfeldt, who had such a big breakout hit with The Bridge.

Marcella is just as chilly and mysterious as that Nordic noir with some sublime shots of London, especially around Tate Modern and Elephant and Castle. It’s worth watching for the hypnotic nocturnes of the city alone.

Friel's Marcella Backland is, as you might expect from the genre, a troubled soul, with a tendency here to stalk both suspects and her ex-husband, unravelling further as she finds clues and signs of domestic intrigue. Marcella doesn't seem very well adjusted having spent a decade away from the force after failing to solve the Grove Park murders. She's now back on that case as the killer, who likes to put plastic bags on people's heads, appears to be at it again.

By the end of last night's episode, Friel was caked in blood, naked in the bath and it's uncertain whether she is hunter or hunted anymore. It’s a very promising start to an eight-part mystery with secondary characters you want to see more of, especially Ray Panthaki's petulant police chief.

Then before that, on Sunday, taking over the slot on BBC One previously occupied by The Night Manager and War & Peace was Undercover, a less conventional kind of thriller featuring a very talented ensemble of mostly black actors. Undercover stars Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester as a couple living in London who are clearly about to be put through the wringer.

Okonedo is Maya, a hotshot lawyer defending a man on death row in Louisiana, while Lester is Nick, an undercover cop who met and married Maya years ago while on the job. He wriggled out of the force and has effectively been keeping his former identity secret. By the end of the first episode however, Maya is being tipped to become the director of public prosecutions, a role that could see her digging around in Nick's past.

There's a lot going on here and at times the drama is both confusing and a bit of a credibility-stretcher, but it's nice to see the BBC doing something different. There are strong performances from the leads, even if Lester doesn't quite make the same impact on telly as he does on the stage.

This London is a leafier version of the one in Marcella, but shots of Parliament Hill lido will make you want to take a dip — if only to wash off the general fug of death  and deceit.

Last Updated 05 April 2016