A quietly confidant fact-based drama with a revelatory lead performance, Manhunt Episode 1 gets the investigation off to a fine start.
Quiet, awkward, modest, tenacious – these are words that describe both ITV’s new fact-based procedural drama Manhunt and its star Martin Clunes, who here plays the Metropolitan Police’s DCI Colin Sutton. Gangly and bespectacled, the actor is best-known for comedic work, but here he turns his relatable everyman persona to the task of bringing to justice the real-life serial killer Levi Bellfield.
With a refreshingly pleasant home life (Claudie Blakley plays his wife, Louise, as a truly warm and supportive presence) and an evidently respectable policing career, Sutton initially sees his spearheading of a high-profile investigation to be a great opportunity, but in Manhunt Episode 1 he’s quickly overwhelmed by the scale and seriousness of the case. It begins with the murder of French student Amélie Delagrange, but displays links to the similar killing of Marsha McDonnell; the police are determined the downplay the connection, but Sutton’s tenacity and underlying decency makes it near-impossible for him to pull the wool over the eyes of the public, who are incensed by the sudden spate of seemingly motiveless crimes.
The series was co-created by Sutton himself and based on his memoirs, and is utterly devoid of glamour and sensationalism (unlike some other recent ITV cop shows). It reflects the bulk of police work as tedious and painstaking, and the majority of coppers as hardworking but not preternaturally gifted or talented. They’re normal people doing a tough job, dredging rivers and poring over hours and hours of CCTV footage. There were more rolled eyes in Manhunt Episode 1 than in almost any show I can recall.
This, of course, is the point. And the show proves that you don’t necessarily need those made-for-TV flourishes to make a drama compelling. The element of truth to the story – the lingering sense that the steps taken in the investigation were indeed taken in reality, and that the crimes were just as heinous – lends something to Manhunt that all the clever scripting in the world probably couldn’t. And quieter scenes – such as a particularly touching one in which Amélie’s parents visit Twickenham Green, the scene of her death, and are handed a flower by two schoolgirls – are similarly powerful in their own, quiet way.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.