Monday, 20 October 2014

Mayday (BBC, 2013) - DVD review

Mayday, screened on BBC One last year, is a five-part whodunit with pagan/mystical elements, and a curse plays a part in the story. It's tempting to think that the show itself was cursed, because it suffered an extraordinary misfortune. The first part of the script, by Ben Court and Caroline Ip, was written in 2006, and the programme was finally filmed in the very damp May of 2012, before being screened the following year. And what happened? it coincided with ITV's Broadchurch, regarded by me and by other more notable judges as the best crime drama of the year, that's what happened. Poor old Mayday suffered badly by comparison.

A friend who is a good judge had told me that Mayday was inferior, and it is true, I think, that Broadchurch is a more successful drama. However, I decided recently to see what it was like, and acquired the DVD version. What I found was that Mayday is intensely watchable, and although it suffers from a slightly unsatisfactory finale, I think it bears comparison with Broadchurch in terms of quality.

The coincidental overlap between Mayday and Broadchurch is, however, remarkable. Both are strong dramas that offer a whodunit mystery, but also the portrayal of a relatively upmarket south of England community that is torn asunder when a child goes missing. In both stories, a man suspected of being a paedophile is vilified by a local lynch mob. In each case, he commits suicide. In both stories, there is a strong female character, a police officer, whose husband is a suspect. And the coincidences don't end there.

Mayday does, however, offer an interesting, and rather ambitious, added element. This was the concept of "old England" paganism, with dark deeds taking place in the rural woodland. Some reviewers didn't like this aspect of the story, but I felt it added depth, although perhaps it wasn't developed as fully as it might have been; this contributed to the slightly uncertain mood of the story. I also felt more could have been made of the fact that the victim, and the girlfriend of the son of one of the suspects, were twins.

Finally, the cast of Broadchurch was superb. The acting in Mayday is also good, but I did think that the (very talented) actors cast as the teenagers were too old for their supposed characters. Peter Firth agonised credibly as a voyeuristic businessman, and Aidan Gillen was suitably sleazy as a widower with an eye for young girls. Lesley Manville was, arguably, miscast as the businessman's unfeeling wife, but Sophie Okonedo was brilliant as the cop who has given up work to devote herself to her family. Her performance was, for me, as good as Olivia Colman's in Broadchurch. Yesterday, I wrote in this blog about being appreciated. I really do hope that those who worked so hard on Mayday will have their efforts appreciated by people who, like me, watch the show on DVD. They were so unlucky that they were simply in the wrong place on the television schedules at the wrong time.

1 comment:

Philip Amos said...

I am not surprised that the pagan elements in the series caused some critics immediately to deduct points. Most surely, some book critics do likewise when they see that a crime novel contains some degree of this. Indeed, I suspect mention of such on the inside cover will be enough for the novel not to be reviewed. Equally surely, an aversion to any putative 'supernatural' element has been made clear on some crime fiction blogs.

There is, I think, a misunderstanding here. I can't recall if the supernatural is the target of any of Msgr. Knox's rules, but if it were, I'm sure he would have said that the solution must not depend upon some supernatural element. The solution!

But in various ways, folklore remains part of the weft and woof of life for many people, especially in certain regions, and thus is no reason at all why it should not be a thread in the fabric of a crime novel. I already had this in mind when I read this post, Martin, for it was but a short time ago that I had another bash via a blog comment at bringing the novels of Phil Rickman more attention. His Merrily Watkins novels I think masterly, and it seems that John Connolly agrees.

Connolly writes in a back-cover blurb, "Rickman writes mysteries in the classic sense, cleverly combining the supernatural and criminal elements...". An endorsement from Connolly ought to take a novel a fair distance, but I suspect that rather unfortunate phrasing did the opposite. And yet, though Merrily Watkins is both an Anglican parish minister and the Diocese's 'Deliverance Consultant', the current title for the exorcist, and although the supernatural is a thread in all the novels -- which is how Merrily comes to be in them, after all -- there is nothing supernatural about the novels' crimes or denouements.

I think it inspired of Rickman to set the novels in the Tri-counties region, for there is no area more redolent of mystery and folklore-saturated than there. There are many crime novels of a sort perfect for curious auto-didacts, the best of them an education in anything from antiques to sex slavery, as well we know. Rickman too belongs with those, for his knowledge of the Tri-counties is vast. He excels himself in a plot that initially rests on the myth of Elgar still riding his bicyle around Worcestershire and encompasses his Dream of Gerontius.

And thus, another plug for Rickman, or I think he deserves it, but also a general plea for critics, and perhaps many readers, to be rather more careful with their categories. I am a touch unhappy with the degree of attention given to some authors as if of a right, while too many fine crime fiction writers are ignored or close to it.

There is, at bottom, no difference between Rickman's novels and, say, Ngaio Marsh's Off with His Head. Now I shall see if my local library has acquired the DVD of Mayday.