There are two new crimes series on telly at the moment – Unforgotten on ITV, and From Darkness on BBC1. Both, on the face of it, are quite similar. Both feature the discovery of human bones as the ‘kicking off’ point for the drama. Both then go on to uncover webs of dark deeds from years, even decades, ago. And both feature a central female character. But there the similarities end.
Given the BBC’s track record you might expect their offering to be the better of the two. Sadly, it isn’t. While Unforgotten is full of strong, warm, interesting characters and has an episodic narrative that is both taut and intriguing, From Darkness is dull, repetitive and flabby. Unforgotten’s DCI Cassie Stuart may be obsessive about her latest cold case but she also comes across as a thoroughly good copper. The same can’t be said about the characters in From Darkness. I’m no expert, but the little I have gleaned from books, and from listening to speakers on the crime writing circuit, tells me that there is no way a retired officer with mental health problems would be given a frontline role in solving crime. Yet that’s exactly what former constable Claire Church is allowed to do. She takes part in formal police interviews; rushes into crime scenes, alone and without back-up; and generally gets in the way of a proper investigation.
I understand that this is entertainment and that some dramatic licence is allowed, but getting the basic facts as wrong as this just makes the whole thing seem silly. It doesn’t help that some of the dialogue is clunky, the action slow-to-non-existent (it took the whole of the first hour for Church’s former boss to persuade her to come back and work on the case) and it’s very formulaic. The Guardian described it as having ‘plenty of work for the cliché police’ in their online review.
So, will I be watching the rest of either series? A resounding yes to Unforgotten, to find out how so many apparently separate strands can be brought together into one over-arching storyline (there were already hints about this at the end of the first episode). But an equally resounding no to From Darkness, which simply made me want to throw things at the television. It’s amazing how two such similar shows can end up being so completely different.