Martin Clunes taking on a straight dramatic role is the kind of thing that you’d expect a TV programme to make a big deal out of. Not so, ITV’s Manhunt, which keeps the spotlight shining on three other people that led to this drama: Amelie Delagrange, who was mustered in 2004, Marsha McDonnell (2003) and Milly Dowler (2002).
Based upon the memoirs of London Metropolitan police detective Colin Sutton, Clunes plays the copper, who managed to piece together the hidden links between the three seemingly unconnected homicides, ultimately leading to the culprit’s conviction. It’s the kind of true crime story that opens itself up to the potential of exploiting real lives for entertainment, but every inch of Manhunt is crafted and assembled with the utmost respect.
The three-part drama dissects the case in plodding, slow detail, as Sutton and his team have to first identify Delagrange before they can start to work out what happened to place her on Twickenham common after dark. The year before, McDonnell’s case ended in a near-conviction, which was prevented by their potential culprit being sectioned before the police could officially chase them. And so Sutton begins to look into that case too, as he suspects it was closed prematurely, before the right man could be found.
That emphasis on the procedure of this crime procedural is what makes it so chillingly effective, as the drama reinforces with every new lead and every fresh dead end just how long, and just how much work, it takes to break a case like this.
Ed Whitmore’s script finds the occasional note of lightness in the dark subject matter, as the drama humanises the people behind the police desks, behind the phone calls, behind the delicate interviews, behind the scouring of CCTV footage for a crucial white van. In the same way, it examines the toll that Sutton’s dedication to the case took upon his marriage, as his wife (whose own career is put into poor light as he digs up the McDonnell investigation) tolerates the all-engulfing obsession. But Clunes leads a cast that determinedly never overplays any note of tension or frustration; he’s a calm, polite presence, whose gentle sighs are almost inaudible when compared to the stylised, gruff antics of BBC One’s Luther. As he apologies to the parents of Delagrange for the delay in the case’s progress, the notion that this is a dramatic debut for Clunes has long since vanished from your mind; he’s disappeared entirely into a thoughtful, moving, sensitively made tribute to a real life tragedy and its eventual resolution.