Watching the Detectives - Marcella

In a series of articles, Susan Omand and Steve Taylor-Bryant are going to remember the policemen, spies and criminal specialists that entertained them over the years. Today, Steve asks for mercy with Marcella...

I seem to spend my life apologising at the moment. I’m sorry for things at work as real life affects my actions, I’m sorry on social media because I just can’t articulate my thoughts in a way that pleases everyone and, today, I’m sorry that I haven’t seen more of Anna Friel’s work in the past, I haven’t included her in my conversations about great British television performers. I don’t know why Friel’s work has passed me by, I truly don’t, but I’m now going on a journey to watch as much as possible because the two series of Marcella have made me sit up and take notice.

Marcella Backland (Anna Friel) retired from the Metropolitan police to raise a family with her husband, Jason (Nicholas Pinnock), who at the start of series one leaves her and it turns out he’s been having an affair with a wealthy real estate developer, Grace Gibson (Maeve Dermody) who falls victim to a potential serial killer that Marcella had tried to capture many years before. Newly single Marcella throws herself back into life as a police detective to try and solve the serial killings, but at what personal cost?

Marcella is not a regular police drama, Marcella has some serious mental health issues and blacks out under extreme stress leaving her unable to recall the events that happened when she comes back to the real world. This is quite an unusual trope in television detection which is made all the more stressful for both Marcella and the audience when neither knows whether she is responsible for one of the killings. The Marcella back story unfolds a little in series one and fully as series two grips your heart and doesn’t let go. I’m not one for spoilers but I will say ‘holy crap what a tense ride’. The sheer mental exhaustion you experience from just Marcella and her story would be enough for a normal drama, but what show creator Hans Rosenfeldt and his team have done is take that tension you are feeling from watching Marcella’s life and added it to investigations that are almost unrivalled on British television for twists and turns. The sheer amount of characters that could be the main perpetrator of the upfront crime is astonishing and virtually impossible to guess as you’re watching who did what. Then, just when you think you know, as you think you have a handle on things, the story takes a sharp left turn and you’re almost left breathless at the next event, the next character back story that links in some way to the main crime, nervous that maybe you have missed a big clue as a character on the periphery becomes important for a brief moment.

There are some great shows written for television in the United Kingdom, Unforgiven and Line of Duty spring immediately to mind, but I don’t remember any show that threw so much at every character, at every aspect of a intriguing story, and backed all that up with a stunningly shot series full of fantastic performances from everybody involved. Without spoiling anything, Marcella series two leaves the show open for a third outing but in a way that I honestly don’t see working so I hope it’s done but the way the writing grips you I wouldn’t be surprised if Marcella comes back and shocks me in a pleasant way by confounding my fears and making me apologise yet again.

There are not many television shows I implore people to watch, I know the Scandinavian style darkness is not for everyone, but Marcella is quite honestly the best drama I’ve seen for many a year and I really think you’ll miss out on a potential life changing experience if you don’t see it soon.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites

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