Friday, March 08, 2013

Sheer brilliance on a screen

Every now and again something comes up on tv that takes your breath away.  Some of the 'Scandi noir' series, especially The Bridge and The Killing II, had that effect, as did the BBC spy drama The Shadow Line from a couple of years ago.

All this week we've been glued to the screen by the latest example of brilliance - a dark drama called Mayday.  Set in a fictional southern village, it shows the impact on a small community of the disapperance of a young girl on her way to be crowned as the May Queen.

Everything about the series was magical, in both senses of the word.  Writing, direction, cinematography and above all acting combined into one well-crafted whole.  The series had attracted some big names - Peter Firth, Lesley Manville - but no one actor took over and dominated, in the way they sometimes can.  Instead we were treated to the best ensemble performance I've seen for a long time.  Even the less well known 'faces' shone. 

The characters all had their own secrets and flaws, yet none was unrealistic.  Even the unsympathetic characters had their own reasons for their actions, their own moments of grace, which makes a refreshing change from all those two-dimensional baddies that turn up in tv shows and films with monotonous regularity.  These were real people, with real hang-ups and problems, and real misunderstandings. 

Too often the ending spoils an otherwise good series.  Even The Shadow Line was marred by an outbreak of last-minute melodrama, while the end of the last The Killing series was quite frankly bonkers!  But here, I think the writers got it just right.  We knew enough to satisfy our main questions - who killed Hattie and why - and there were delicious hints of a final, unstoppable justice from beyond the grave.  Other threads were left dangling, but then real life is like that - not everything can be explained by the detective in the library afterwards - and it's even possible the show's creators were leaving a few things open for a second series.  I rather hope so, because if it's as good as this was, then I can't wait.

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