Catch up TV review: Born to Kill, Hunting the KGB Killers, Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads
James R | On 23, Apr 2017
Born to Kill (All 4)
What makes a psychopath a psychopath? The unsubtly named “Born to Kill” might sound like a cheesy exploration of such a time-honoured subject for TV, but this four-part drama gets off to a wonderfully nuanced start. And, of course, by wonderful, we mean unsettling, chilling and so, so creepy.
Jack Rowan is our lead, the innocuously named Sam, and he delivers one heck of a performance, all charming smiles and polite helpfulness on the surface and cool, careful rehearsing of human traits underneath. As Chrissy (Lara Peake) notes at one point, the smile never reaches his eyes. She’s right.
Chrissy is one of many who seems to bring out his good side – along with a boy getting bullied on the bus, whom Sam steps in to defend, and an old bloke at the local hospital, whom he reads Treasure Island to. He even does a pirate voice. Arr, he’s a nice boy, that Sam, say the adults around him. That includes his mum (the always-remarkable Romola Garai).
While it’s true that we need to talk about Sam, though, what makes Channel 4’s drama stand out is the way that it also gives screen-time to the parents of both Chrissy and Sam. As they begin to show signs of possible chemistry (nothing in this disturbing show is warm or natural), Garai’s superbly human performance as the frayed Jenny and Daniel Mays (another national treasure) as Chrissy’s well-meaning dad (whose mother is in the hospital where Jenny works) find their sympathetic paths crossing. In the foreground, Sam is practising an anecdote about his dad dying in Afghanistan to the mirror; in the background, though, loom repeated hints at a figure from his and Jenny’s past (presumably his dead) returning. The result is an intriguing, and unnerving, study of the complex relationships between parents and children, nature and nurture. There’s more subtlety to that title than first appears.
New episodes are at 9pm on Channel 4 for the next three Thursdays.
Hunting the KGB Killers (All 4)
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 10 years since Litvinenko was poisoned by polonium in London. The news of his death after a fateful meal in Itsu feels like a surprisingly long time ago – and yet feels more topical than ever. This documentary takes us through the worrying, sinister case step by step – and it’s a gripping, thrilling watch. It parades its exclusive, never-before-heard testimonies from witnesses and key figures, but the film earns every single inch of that claim, as the array of talking heads provide intriguing, eye-opening details.
Litvinenko’s wife and his son, Anatoly, bring a tangible sense of loss to events, but it’s the police who worked the case who bring the goods, from the fear of having a cup of tea offered by Russian officials in the middle of an investigative Moscow visit to the grim humour of anecdotes being related with several years’ distance from the facts. It humanises the hunt for Litvinenko’s killer(s), but also offers enough colour and engaging narration to offset recreations that might otherwise be cheesy and trite.
News footage completes the package, with the scary realisation that when Litvinenko appeared on TV to accuse Putin of killing journalist Anna Politkovskaya, polonium had already entered his system; he was effectively already dead. The steps taken to get there are fiendishly complex and slow-paced, but the filmmakers present it with a fantastic urgency; we begin with Litvinenko’s determination to give as detailed a testimony to the police as possible before he dies (a curious case of a man solving his own murder) and the documentary doesn’t drop that pace. The result is a rollicking ride through a case that dominated headlines back in 2006 – and in 2017, a important reminder that it’s only a decade since the Russians killed someone in London with the whole world watching.
Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads (ITV Hub)
ITV’s new take on Maigrey just keeps getting better – and a good job too. After an unconvincing first adaptation, Christmas 2016 saw the programme develop a real sense of style and location. Third time lucky, Maigret gets the plot to go with it, as Georges Simenon’s detective finds himself caught up in the death of a diamond dealer. What happened that night at the crossroads? The unfolding web of tight-lipped witnesses, a Danish man with a scar and a strange relationship with his sister, a dash of infidelity and even Mark Heap among the supporting cast as a forensic expert, isn’t always perfectly paced to fill its two-hour runtime, but provides just enough clues and just enough cheese to make for satisfying Sunday night viewing. The only weak link is, alas, Rowan Atkinson himself. Atkinson’s performance is stronger and more nuanced the more we see of it – mostly thanks to his relationship with wife – but Maigret is yet to become a truly compelling screen detective. That’ll be something for the fourth one.