Three new ITV dramas and the return of the BBC’s flagship sci-fi show are the highlights of this week’s instalment
As the recent trailers have informed us, Drama Lives on ITV, and this week saw the debut of three new dramas. The first was the jewel in the crown of ITV’s drama season – Mrs Biggs which tells the story of Charmian the woman who met and married Ronnie Biggs. We first meet Charmian, played by Sheridan Smith, she is living a mundane existence – working in a bank and living with her devout father and mousy mother. One day on the way to work she meets Ronnie Biggs and sees him as a colourful and exciting alternative to her humdrum existence. As Charmian falls under Ronnie’s spell, he convinces her to steal from the bank before they go on the run with one of Ron’s other criminal associates. Eventually the trio are caught but Ron gives himself up rather than let Charmian come to any harm. After Ron is released from prison, the pair resume their relationship and soon tell her horrified father that she is pregnant and plans to marry Ronnie. Surprisingly, Ronnie settles into being a suburban husband and soon becomes a successful odd-job man while Charmian looks after the kids at home. However, when Charmian learns that their house is being put up for sale, Ron has to look to his old criminal mates for the money. Ronnie reconnects with his old friend Bruce, who tells him of a job he’s about to start and wants Ronnie’s help in enlisting his former train driver friend Peter. Of course Bruce’s job turns out to be The Great Train Robbery and both Ron and Charmian’s lives will never be the same following that fateful night.
Mrs Biggs writer Jeff Pope managed to enlist Charmian’s help in writing and creating the story, which I believe is both a blessing and a curse. I feel if she hadn’t have been involved then some of the more naturalistic dialogue would’ve been lost and the piece wouldn’t have seemed as realistic as it does. At the same time a lot of information seems to have been crammed into this hour long episode, which covers over six years of the couple’s relationship. I feel that Charmian wanted to include a lot of moments that were important to her but that didn’t really advance the plot all that much. While the script may have been slightly uneven, I really enjoyed the period detail in Mrs Biggs and the way that Charmian’s appearance changed as the years went on. Sheridan Smith is absolutely fantastic as she makes Charmian a sympathetic and believable characters whose actions can be explained by the fact that she fell in love. Smith also allows her character to grow throughout the years as Charmian becomes more confident after she becomes a wife and mother. It’s not much of a stretch for Daniel Mays to play a loveable rogue but here he makes Ronnie Biggs seem more like a small-time crook than the criminal mastermind he has always been portrayed as. While it has always been thought that he was one of the originators of the crime, the fact is he simply took part in order to get money for his wife. The problem with this first episode of Mrs Biggs was that there was a lot of plot to cram into a short period of time and that meant there was issues with the pacing. But I feel that the best is yet to come and with performances such as the ones provided by Mays and Smith I’m optimistic in my viewpoint.
Staying with ITV drama we have A Mother’s Son, which starred Hermione Norris as Rosie a mother who suspects her eldest child of committing a heinous act. The drama begins with the announcement that a teenage girl, Lorraine Mullary, has been found killed at the local beach. While Rosie is glad that her children Liv and Jamie are safe she is worried that the latter has been behaving oddly. She notes that he has put the washing machine on for the first time in his life while she also finds blood on the trainers he’d claimed to have lost. As Jamie becomes more distant, Rosie turns to her new husband Ben for support however he’s more concerned about his two children who also live with them. Things come to a head when Ben’s daughter accuses Jamie of spying on her while she’s in the shower, with the two parents sticking up for their respective children it seems that this new marriage isn’t as happy as those involved suspected. With Ben being no help, Rosie turns to her ex-husband David for help and he soon discovers that Jamie has been hanging around with a known sex-offender who may well have forced him to kill Lorraine. After watching the first episode, I’d be very disappointed if Jamie does turn out to be the killer as A Mother’s Son would turn out to be fairly anticlimactic. There were also moments in this episode where I felt I had to suspend my disbelief to breaking point such as when Rosie turned all CSI on her son’s trainers or when David was hanging around outside the school gates without anybody stopping him. Thankfully A Mother’s Son is made gripping via the central performance of Hermione Norris who is excellent as she perfectly captured what a normal mother placed in extreme circumstances would do. Norris’ concerned mother routine was spot on as were the scenes were she tried to be a parent to Ben’s kids with him shooting her down. Martin Clunes brings a caring side to the character and somebody who always tries to do the best for everybody, even if that means hiding the flowers he’s bought for his late wife’s grave from his current partner, however as the drama goes on it is revealed that this isn’t always possible. A Mother’s Son had a strong start, despite some unbelievable moments, it was realistic in its depiction of a newly constructed family. It also had some strong turns form Norris and Clunes and I’m just hoping that there’s a twist at the end of the tale or the second part will be very disappointing indeed.
Next up we have The Bletchley Circle starring Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan a post-war housewife who spends her days doting on her husband and serving Spam to her ungrateful children. However, Susan isn’t your ordinary housewife as she used to be one of a number of women who cracked codes at The Bletchley Park Code-Breaking Office .Since the war a bored Susan has spent her days solving crossword puzzles and wasting her intelligence being a wife and mother. But, when a group of young women go missing, Susan thinks she spotted a pattern between the kidnappings and badgers her husband to let her talk to the Deputy Commissioner. When her theory doesn’t pan out, she is dejected but still thinks she on to something so reassembles her former circle of friends from Bletchley Park. Flirty Millie is now out of money, after a trip to South Africa, and is now working in a bar for a sleazy boss. Timid Lucy confined to married life where she irons the same shirt and makes an endless amount of casseroles while straight-laced Jean is doing what any good spinster would namely work in a library. The group eventually decide to come together and pool their respective skills in order to solve the mystery. They are able to deduce that all of the victims used the same train route and then take matters into their own hands by attempting to apprehend the killer themselves. Anybody who likes a good mystery drama will enjoy The Bletchley Circle with its well-paced drama and plucky heroines. Guy Birt presents four likeable central characters all of whom are portrayed by fantastic actresses. Anna Maxwell Martin, who also shone of last week’s Accused, is brilliant here as the frustrated and brilliant Susan who longs to be heard by the women around her. Sophie Rundle plays the timid Lucy well while Julie Graham completely inhabits the uptight and straightforward Jean. For me though the standout cast member is Rachel Stirling playing Millie as sort of an outrageous lush but one who has a good heart as right from the start she is the one convincing Susan to push herself forward. I have to say I enjoyed The Bletchley Circle more than I thought I would and found it to be an old-school mystery drama with four likeable actresses leading the action.
Finally, something that wasn’t on ITV as we welcome the return of Doctor Who for the first part of Season Seven. Here we see The Doctor brought out of retirement, after faking his own death at the end of the last series, in order to travel to the Daleks’ home planet of Skaro. However, little does he know, that his former companions Amy and Rory have also been transported from Earth. Since we last saw them, Amy and Rory are in the midst of a divorce but are handily reconciled by the end of this episode. The main plot device here is that a mind cloud is turning humans into Daleks, with Amy threatening to be their latest victim. Once again, Rory is forced to play the everyman hero while The Doctor tries to defeat his oldest foes in order to save his friends. The big shock for all of us was that new companion Jenna Louise Colman appeared here as Oswin Osgood, the entertainments officer from a ship that had crashed on the planet. Interestingly Colman’s companion character was to be called Clara, and it would be interesting to see where they go with the character at the end of this episode. For now though it is best to concentrate on Amy and Rory who only have a few episodes left as I’m sure their absence will have a profound effect on The Doctor. I found this episode, entitled Asylum of The Daleks, to be good old-fashioned Saturday night entertainment just like Doctor Who is meant to be. I felt that the dystopian planet of Skaro was well-designed and added to the overall mood of the episode. In addition I found both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill to be brilliant here as their separation and reconciliation gave this episode its emotional edge. Watching them here made me realise what a great job they’d done and how much they’ll be missed, but at the same time I’m excited to see where the next four episodes will take us.
That’s your lot, get out of here and I’ll see you next time.