23 January, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Hunter"



Gareth McLean, The Guardian

"Reprising their roles from Gwyneth Hughes's thriller Five Days, Hugh Bonneville and Janet McTeer have less than three hours to find two missing boys before their abductors kill them. As Bonneville proclaims that "It's time to gamble!" and think outside the box, he comes over a bit Deal Or No Deal, while McTeer waltzes around carrying various bits of stationery. (That she still manages to captivate is testament to her presence.) Still, with a cast including Harriet Walter and Clare Holman, the conclusion of Mick Ford's two-parter is a classy, if slightly daft, affair."

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Sam Wollaston,
The Guardian

"Actors, proper posh ones - acTORs - need to play a detective at some stage in their career. It's just something they gotta do. Helen Mirren did, of course. Kenneth Branagh recently notched up his, with Wallander. Sir Ian McKellen is joining the cast of The Bill - you heard it here first, so what if it's not true? And now here's Hugh Bonneville in Hunter (BBC1, Sunday).


The thick aristocratic curls have been shorn, he's been roughed up a bit, deprived of sleep and given the requisite grumpiness, complicated private life and eccentric out-of-work interest: for Sherlock Holmes it was playing the violin and a serious, class-A drug habit; for Bonneville's character, Det Supt Iain Barclay, it's stargazing. Actually, it's a role he's played before, in a drama called Five Days, which went out a couple of years ago. Now the character is reborn, and that's no bad thing, because he's a good one. The interest in astronomy fits in with his policing: where others just see random dots in the sky, he sees patterns, and that's what makes him a good cop. His favourite constellation? Orion, of course, the hunter.

The premise is a little dodgy. Anti-abortionists are kidnapping children and threatening to kill them. Pro-life killers - hmmm, that's a bit like CND bombers, or anti-vivisection puppy-bashers. But we'll let that pass. OK, while we're on the subject of moans, I'm thinking that the dead kid on the railway line, the one missing two feet and one hand (which turns up further down the track) is a little gratuitous, especially as he's not even connected to the case - just an unfortunate graffiti artist who got the train times wrong. It's almost as if they thought: hell, there aren't any bodies in this first part - we'll chuck this one in, minus a few extremities, because people want, and expect, bodies. I blame CSI. I suppose it does give us the chance to see DSI Barclay deploying his methods. He gets out his telescope (figuratively speaking), spots his constellation, solves the case, deploys a little sardonicism, and that's it, job done.

The main case is proving a tougher nut to crack, though, and requires another episode tonight. That's good news, because this is quality police drama. It may lack the aura of Wallander, but it's tight and tense, and good on character as well - not just Barclay, but his sidekick, too (every copper needs one). DS Amy Foster, played by Janet McTeer, also has an out-of-work interest: the bottle. She complements Barclay well, filling in where he lacks (people skills, management), while he does the sobriety and crime-fighting. It's an interesting are they/aren't they/have they/will they relationship.

Anyway, they'd better pull their collective fingers out, because there are two little boys in a garage that's been converted into a hospital ward/execution chamber, and a body-hungry TV audience baying for blood. Get your figurative telescope quickly, Barclay, and spot those patterns, before it's too late."

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Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent

"The “I hate you/Take your clothes off” trope was also in evidence in the first episode of Hunter, in which DI Zoe Larson did the angry, shouty, face-off schtick with a colleague in the office and then next moment turned up to straddle him in his bedroom.


DI Larson isn’t very popular in the office because she’s a fast-tracker and plays everything by the book, but Hunter itself isn’t supposed to. It’s a spin-off from that excellent series Five Days,which genuinely coaxed something fresh from the over-worked field of the police procedural, although, on the basis of this first episode, it’s hard not to feel that a regrettable act of taming and domestication has taken place here.

The point, I take it, is to get a little more mileage out of the double act of Hugh Bonneville and Janet McTeer – an astronomy-loving Detective Superintendant and his booze-loving sidekick – and when they’re off duty, sparring gently to feel out what it is they actually want from each other, it works well.

The lines are a mile away from the functional directness of Trial & Retribution. On duty, though, things are more predictable, and matters aren’t helped by a plotline so effortfully “different” that it threatens the low-key plausibility that should be one of the drama’s selling points. Inter-scene cuts offer you Martin Parr-like images of scudding clouds over a caravan park, or an electricity pylon framed against the sky, an artful bathos that is matched by procedural details about the importance of an office manager or the grim bureaucracy of inter-force liaison. But then the crime turned out to be so unexpectedly baroque in its execution and intentions that credibility began to evaporate.

Two young boys were abducted and turned out to have been kidnapped by anti-abortionists who aimed to use them as leverage for a change in the law, to which end they supplied the police with a steady stream of press releases and emailed photographs of the drugged victims. And the ticking clock element of this storyline turned Hunter into Trial & Retribution, with Bonneville barking out orders and getting steely and urgent in canonical bellowing-copper style.

As it happens, the anti-abortion storyline has its virtues, though these were less apparent in the first episode than they are in tonight’s, when the personal circumstances of the investigating force begin to grate uncomfortably against the self righteous certainty of the people they’re trying to track down.

There’s a nice little exchange in which McTeer’s character owns up to her own abortions – aggressively insouciant about the revelation – and the sense of an untold story floats to the surface. Even here, though, the drama needed more space to tease out these frayed ends and let us see what a tangle they might get into, space that wasn’t available given the more conventional two-part format. I reckon five days, rather than two, would have just about done it. "

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David Chater, The Times

"Although the word “gripping” has been worn thin, it still describes exactly what happens when a supremely well-made thriller blocks out everything else around you and makes time stand still, to the extent that you almost forget to breathe. Without a shadow of a doubt, this two-part thriller about the hunt for two missing boys is not just the programme of the week, but is guaranteed to make the shortlist as one of the programmes of the year. Unfortunately it is impossible to preview this concluding episode without giving away spoilers, except to say that it is profoundly nasty, tense in the extreme and brilliantly performed. You would be insane to miss it."


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Andrew Billen, The Times

"The night's other mini-series, Hunter, ended strongly too - if you could bear to keep watching once a child had died on screen. The interesting thing here, besides Hugh Bonneville and Janet McTeer's alert performances, is that although the villains were fanatical anti-abortionists, the writer Mick Ford gave their arguments the best lines. “Thank God for abortion, I say,” concluded McTeer as Detective Sergeant Foster, who had had three herself and was a part-time drunk. “It would have ruined my life.” “Would it?” wondered Bonneville's Detective Superintendent Barclay, whose past had featured an abortion too, and whose home life now consisted of solitary stargazing. “You think they're mad?” Barclay asked. “It's them or us,” she conceded."


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John Preston, Daily Telegraph

"I had better start with a warning. Readers used to the high moral tone of this column, to the uncompromising severity of its opinions, may be in for a shock. First, though, a few words about Hunter (Sunday and Monday, BBC1).


This is a spin-off to Five Days, which went out a couple of years ago. Hugh Bonneville plays a cop called Iain Barclay, a bluff, likeable, unflappable sort of man who, naturally, has been given a weird hobby – in this case astronomy. He’s also prone to drifting off into rather intense reveries. In telly detective terms, too much thinking always indicates a troubled mind. Barclay’s home life is also in a pleasing state of disarray. He’s in a sort of relationship with his deputy, Amy Foster (Janet McTeer), who both drinks too much and smokes – the latter, of course, being a sure-fire sign of a mind that’s not just troubled, but very sick indeed.

The atmosphere had an eerie, intriguing quality reminiscent of Martin Parr’s photographs of the British at play – a family on a caravanning holiday seen at the beginning looked simultaneously lurid and exhausted. The premise too was promising: two seven-year-old boys were kidnapped at the same time, one from the caravan park, the other from a motorway service station. Both had been kidnapped by fanatical anti-abortionists who threatened to kill them unless their grievances were aired on live TV.

In Mick Ford’s script, all the policemen and women had been carefully layered – as the team tried to find out what had happened to the boys, tensions and flirtations bubbled away beneath. Meanwhile the action belted along at an ominous lick with coppers regularly looking up from their computer screens and bellowing, ‘Come and have a look at this, guv!’

There was, however, a problem – and it went like this. The premise may have been fine, but the explanation for what had happened, when it came, stretched credulity even tighter than the waistband of my fetchingly elasticated trousers. The climax of episode one revealed that the leader of the fanatical anti-abortionists was in fact the nice police doctor who worked in the same office as Barclay and his team. This, I suspect, will have been greeted with a massed chorus of ‘Oh, come off it’ up and down the land.

But there were compensatory factors – two in fact – which brings me back to my original point. These came in the shape of Janet McTeer’s breasts. They were quite simply magnificent – so much so, that you wondered why Barclay had been given an interest in astronomy when all he had to do was crank his focus down to the mighty orbs in front of him. In clear recognition of this, McTeer had been dressed in various items of clingy knitwear to show off her amplitude to best advantage.

I can only liken the effect to a performance I once went to of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture by an amateur orchestra. The cannon effects were much louder than anyone had expected, and after each detonation the musicians needed several seconds to regain their composure and get themselves back on track. Much the same thing happened here. Whenever McTeer walked into a room, conversation would falter and then, stumblingly, start up again.

Even this, though, couldn’t save the second half from following pretty formulaic lines. However, McTeer did at least get to deliver her own withering verdict on the anti-abortionist doctor. ‘You are a callous piece of ----,’ she declared, and then she strode off into an uncertain future – chin held high, back straight, chest splendidly immobile. "

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"BBC controller series and serials Kate Harwood said: "In Hunter, Mick Ford has created a rare thing: a suspenseful thriller which is driven by human characters and the day to day detail of the real world.

"The combination of his exceptional script and the wonderful chemistry of the cast makes this truly unmissable event drama."

Press pack (including interview with screenwriter Mick Ford)

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Episode 1, 5.4 million viewers (21%)

Episode 2, 4.7 million viewers (19%)

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