Murder on the Home Front
9th May at 9pm on ITV
TV dramas can be a tricky one. There’s so many great ones on TV at the moment (hello, new series of Mad Men), that lower-budget shows can pass by unnoticed. There’s also the issue of wanting to catch up on some of the bigger names. Everyone would love to start watching Game of Thrones, but no-one except students and the unemployed can set aside the good 24 hours necessary to watch it from the start.
Maybe Murder on the Home Front is at the other end of the spectrum to those shows, but it fills the gap quite nicely. Murder, sex, blood and guts, and only a couple of hours to set aside to enjoy it all.
Telling the story of Lennox Collins, a Government worker in the fledgling science of forensic pathology during the London blitz, it charts the investigation into a grisly murder of a strangled girl with a swastika carved into her tongue, and the various suspects from the underworld of 1940s London.
If the whole swastika/tongue thing sounds gruesome, that’s because it is. The tone is very strange – it’s filled with Poirot-esque jaunty humour and a cheesy soundtrack, intercut with graphic shots of autopsies and murder victims. It can be a bit of a shock to see Molly Cooper, Collins’ assistant, spouting one-liners one minute, and opening a box to find a severed tongue the next. It seems to be striving to be a gritty thriller, but it’s ultimately unable to break away from ITV whodunnit tropes.
Still, there’s plenty to enjoy here. The period costumes and set approach Mad Men-levels of detail, and the show does a great job of capturing the fractured glamour of the war years. Those slightly annoying ’40s obsessives who wear pinafores and go swing dancing are going to lap it up.
The acting varies, but it’s generally of a good standard. Patrick Kennedy plays the role of Collins, and gives a fantastic performance throughout. His manic, incisive detective comes pretty close to Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in Sherlock, which is always a good thing.
Unfortunately, leading lady Tamzin Merchant swings wildly between excellent and painfully wooden, and some of the minor characters almost spoil the whole thing. Jake Curran plays Norman Beckett, a sinister soldier on leave who is initially a suspect. The ‘sinister’ side doesn’t really come through in his performance though – instead it seems like he’s in the middle of a mild stroke after having had his jaw wired shut.
Really though, this sort of thing is par for the course in a primetime ITV drama. Happily, it’s more than made up for by the wonderful costumes, occasionally excellent acting and genuinely intriguing story. As a two-parter, it’s snappy and fast paced, and well worth a watch. It’s probably a good idea not to watch it while you’re having dinner though. Especially if you’re eating tongue.