Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Black Work versus Lethal White

ITV has just re-run a three-part crime series from 2015, Black Work, starring Sheridan Smith. It's been interesting to compare this show, written by Matt Charman, with the current series of Strike, the private detective show based on novels by J. K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, and adapted for TV by Tom Edge.

First to Black Work. It starts with a familiar scenario - a husband dies and his wife discovers that he was leading a secret life. The wife in question is PC Jo Gillespie, played compellingly (as usual) by Sheridan Smith. Her husband was an undercover cop and it soon becomes clear that he took his undercover activities to exceptional lengths. But he was murdered and there's a mystery about his death. Is someone in the police hierarchy covering something up?

Jo's colleagues and superiors are played by a glittering array of actors - Geraldine James, Douglas Henshall, Phil Davis, Ace Bhatti, and Matthew McNulty. Perhaps none of them are above suspicion? I thought that Charman did a very good job of juggling his cast of characters and moving the story on with pace. Very watchable. At the end of the final episode, Jo is promoted, and one assumes that further series were contemplated. Why they have failed to materialise, I don't know, but Black Work made for good viewing.

I enjoyed the second and third series of Strike rather more than the first. They too were both written by Tom Edge, and I had high hopes for Lethal White. After three of the four episodes, however, I'm very disappointed. The story has from the start been bogged down by an excessive focus on the relationship between Cormoran Strike (played admirably, as always, by Tom Burke) and his sidekick, played by Holliday Grainger. A double-stranded murder plot has also become tedious. I no longer really care whodunit. I haven't read the book, but the adaptation feels flabby in comparison to the taut writing of Black Work. It's the old, old story - given the talent of those involved, this series would surely have been much better had the material not been stretched out beyond its natural length.

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