Inspector Montalbano Review: More Action Per Favore

INSPECTOR MONTALBANO: Saturday 11th February, BBC4, 9pm

If there is one thing that elusive and mischievous sprite, the zeitgeist, has unanimously decided, it’s that BBC Four has its foreign drama commissions down to a fine art. The Killing and Borgen have provided living, breathing proof of this – you’ve seen the frenzied woolly jumper-donning masses, looking out for crime with a pensive yet beautiful frown, pretending to speak Danish.

But perhaps BBC Four (Beeb IV?) has created a monster. It may become a victim of its own success with its new foreign crime offering, Inspector Montalbano. The first episode is a rather brave hour and 45 minutes, with unnervingly rapid subtitles translating the Italian for its audience.

Well, I say audience, but “readerâ€? would be more accurate. The convoluted plotline, played out in generic picturesque southern Italy – the fictional town of Vigàta – depends on constant, explanatory dialogue. There is too much reliance on the script, rather than the literal plot, to sustain the programme for its punishingly long running time. The lack of action wastes the atmospheric settings; darkened apartment buildings, cobbled alleys and beachside slums are perfect for a bit of intrigue, fiery Italian tempers, and cold-blooded murder.

But no, we just have to listen to cranky old Inspector Montalbano chat on (with molti mandatory Italian hand gestures chucked in) about his profound hunches to what seems like the entirety of the Italian male population. He even barks instructions at the press, so that they can broadcast his ramblings to even more unsuspecting citizens.

At the heart of this drama’s problem is its lack of convincing female characters. Montalbano surrounds himself with men – hapless police officers, important-looking Italian chiefs, compliant journalists, secret service gentlemen, an unexplained gaggle of eager young men helping him out, who we can only assume are on work experience – and then a smattering of female stereotypes. A desperate and needy girlfriend who pesters him throughout for marriage and a baby; a permanently semi-clothed lascivious young woman constantly seducing older men, and a reliable housekeeper who cooks him “broccoli and pastaâ€?, but never tidies up (a maverick!).

Unfortunately, compelling characterisation, genuine suspense and sophisticated dialogue seem to be stranded in Denmark for now. Ciao, Inspector.

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