Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Jason's appeal is no mystery

Sunday Life Features Case Histories

Programme Name: Case Histories - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Embargoed for publication until: n/a - Picture Shows:  Jackson Brodie (JASON ISAACS) - (C) Ruby Films - Photographer: -
Sunday Life Features Case Histories Programme Name: Case Histories - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Embargoed for publication until: n/a - Picture Shows: Jackson Brodie (JASON ISAACS) - (C) Ruby Films - Photographer: -

The Belfast-based crime series The Fall may be grabbing all the headlines, but another TV crime drama outstrips it for me.

While BBC2's show about a Norn Irish serial killer is high sheen, high art and self-consciously stylish, with bona fide stars like Gillian Anderson, BBC1's Case Histories is sneaking up on the inside rail.

And much of that is down to lead actor Jason Isaacs.

Sexy but not in a typical Brit thesp professional pretty boy way, Isaacs turns in a mesmerising performance as private detective Jackson Brodie in the TV adaptation of Kate Atkinson's brilliant books.

Craggy and battered, he's a walking metaphor for Edinburgh, the city in which the series is set – and a character in the drama more vividly-realised and recognisable than the Belfast of The Fall. Case Histories makes me want to go to Edinburgh, for all it's grim red-light underworld thugs.

And while The Fall, slick as it is, seems like a very good version of something we've seen before, Case Histories avoids all the cliches of the genre.

Isaac's investigator is a decent man who doesn't get it right and often gets it wrong even when he's right – the jobs he chooses, the conclusions he draws, the choices he makes in affairs of the heart. Last episode, he had to 'dispose' of the body of a hoodlum he'd killed accidentally in a troubling mirror image of one of the crimes he'd solved.

He's also the sort of man who rescues small dogs from vicious brutes – straight from the silent movies, I know, but still a winner.

Brodie is no Poirot or Morse. He's a flawed human being, not a superhero. But even his flaws are prosaic, the failings of a man who is fundamentally good. Not for him the darkness of Cracker or Rebus, brooding about the nature of evil, or the silky efficiency of Anderson's Stella Gibson, always, we are sure, getting their man.

Nor is he an old fashioned thump-'em and cuff-'em hero. He is more likely to be thrashed than the criminal. While you can understand that sometimes the only way to go in our jaded age is to have the killer the hero, like The Fall, Case Histories takes another road. This middle-aged sleuth is a mess who may not, any more than the dutiful police force, manage to set things right by the end.

Worryingly, I doubt if Brodie would track down Jamie Dornan. But then the miscreants in Case Histories are more ordinary and banal in their evil than the Belfast serial killer. And possibly, like Brodie, more true for that.

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