‘Case Histories’: Episode 1 review

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The arrival of yet another British crime drama series isn’t necessarily reason to break out a bottle of champagne and smash it against the side of the telly. The schedules are already stuffed full of them and any newcomer has to jostle for attention with the heavyweight one-namers like Lewis, Sherlock, Rebus and Luther and avoid being bogged down amongst the frothily insubstantial (Zen) or the gruesomely parochial (Midsomer Murders). Happily, Case Histories is more than capable of fighting its corner.

Adapted by Ashley Pharoah (Life On Mars) from the novels of Kate Atkinson, the show stars Jason Isaacs – looking more like the devilish, drug-dealing doctor he played in Inspector Morse nearly twenty years ago than Lucius Malfoy – as Jackson Brodie, an ex-soldier and former policeman who works as a private investigator in Edinburgh. Ruggedly sympathetic and reluctant to say no to anybody who asks for his help, Brodie’s cases veer from the ridiculous to the macabre.

At the onset of this opening episode, he is searching for an inappropriately-named cat for a long-standing and poorly-paying client, Binky Rain (Sylvia Sims), to the consternation of his secretary (with whom he shares a feisty relationship akin to Dirk Gently and Janice Pearce). By the end, he’s also investigating a murder (a teenager, Laura Wyre, seven months previously) and a disappearance (a much younger girl, Olivia Land, thirty years ago). However, thanks to his daughter Marlee, he has at least found the missing moggy.

Brodie and Marlee share a pleasantly frank relationship. In many television series, a precocious eight year old finding the file on a murder victim in her dad’s car would lead to embarrassment and a swift covering up of any reference to the dead girl. However, when this happens in Case Histories, Brodie is not flustered and simply explains that the girl in the photograph – Laura Wyre – was murdered and nobody knows why. ‘You’ll find out why, Dad,’ Marlee replies calmly. This rapport between father and daughter (the latter played with astonishing aplomb by young Millie Innes) is a study in both familial warmth and light relief.

The love, respect and trust between father and child is superbly portrayed while the humour – Brodie’s estranged wife Josie (Kirsty Mitchell) is frequently outraged when her daughter returns home and reveals she’s spent the day at a murder scene, or at a convent, or at the funeral of a dead dog – is a welcome respite from the darker parts of what turns out to be a surprisingly grim set of storylines.

The substantial, criss-crossing plots are balanced with a very stylish overall look and feel. From the tranquil, panoramic views from the southern stretches of Arthur’s Seat to blurred, rain-swept night shots of the Scott Monument and the lights of Princes Street, the many sides and shades of Edinburgh provide a wonderful backdrop to Jackson Brodie’s investigations, while an eclectic folk rock soundtrack that includes Iris Dement, Mary Gauthier, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss provides hints towards the deeper melancholia behind the main character’s good-humoured, man-of-action exterior. If the rest of the series matches this opening, Case Histories will be deservedly judged a success.

Airs at 9pm on Sunday 5th June 2011 on BBC One.

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