UK TV review: Manhunt: The Night Stalker
Ivan Radford | On 26, Sep 2021
It’s been two years since Martin Clunes delivered a jaw-dropping turn in ITV’s Manhunt, a true crime drama that retold the police’s efforts to catch the serial killer Levi Bellfield. What was impressive was just how understated Clunes was, despite being the lead detective, Colin Sutton – the series was adapted from his own memoirs. When it comes to true crime, sequels aren’t usually the order of the day, but this second story (also adapted from his memoirs) brings Clunes’ Sutton back on to our screens, and he’s once again so beautifully understated that you almost don’t see him at all.
Here, we find Sutton riding the reputation of the cop who caught one of the UK’s most-wanted, and so he’s drafted in by his superiors to help with another serial offender who’s been eluding capture for 17 years. A burglar and rapist, the Night Stalker, as he’s dubbed by the press, is a horrifying spectre in south east London, preying on elderly people and hiding in their gardens until he finds an opportunity to break in. But with him still evading the police, the question is why the police haven’t caught him yet – especially because the cops already have the man’s DNA.
Enter Colin, with his backpack in hand, hoping to find some kind of hidden nugget amid the boxes and piles of paper. “Why are you here?” asks one of the team. “I just follow orders,” comes the unassuming reply, and Clunes does wonders as the well-meaning, weary detective, eager to help find justice for the Night Stalker’s victims and their families as well as keep busy. His wife, Louise (Claudie Blakley), knows all too well that the case will consume him, and that the seemingly never-ending pursuit could well lead to her husband having to postpone his imminent retirement – but it’s testament to how well written the four-part drama is that their discussions about it aren’t melodramatic arguments, but calm and supportive conversations. She even helps to think through possible solutions to the problem.
Colin takes that down-to-earth spirit into the station, a shrewd spectator but a quiet contributor – he contradicts and corrects when necessary but without confrontation. Part of the entertainment comes from watching the shifting dynamics within the team, particularly Matt Bardock as the gruff and defensive leader, Simon, and Matthew Gravelle as the more welcoming deputy, Nathan. It doesn’t take Colin long to realise that one of the reasons the team are so wary of him is that they’re run ragged, understaffed and drowning in all the additional tasks required when treating each case as a murder.
The turning point in the case is stripping everything back to a less exhaustive approach to each crime scene. Writer Ed Whitmore uses that as a way to speed up the pace of the show as well as the investigation, and the result immerses us in the case with a riveting subtlety – after a long period of conveying the gradual, patient nature of this procedural, and taking the time to respectfully dwell on the tragic experiences of the victims, the stakes feel palpably high. An on-foot chase is genuinely nail-biting, tipping gently from drama into full-on thriller. But what sticks with you is Sutton’s impassioned plea to higher-ups for more financial support to boost the team’s resources – a moment Clunes delivers with heartbreaking sincerity. Then, he withdraws back inside his shell and the work continues. It’s a superbly observed performance in a brilliantly crafted piece of TV.