ITV’s excellent true-crime miniseries concluded with Manhunt Episode 3, which offered a remarkably cathartic end to a tragic real-life investigation.
More than perhaps any TV cop show I can remember, Manhunt Episode 3 managed to communicate the pressure of building an airtight legal case against a suspect – even one as proudly greasy and loathsome as Levi Bellfield (Celyn Jones). This, among other things, is what has made ITV’s true-crime miniseries such a success, and while it can’t be said that the show had a happy ending, it certainly had a cathartic one.
In the end, Colin Sutton (Martin Clunes) caught his prey. But it took some doing. A well-coordinated raid that kicked off Manhunt Episode 3 almost ended in disaster until the police found Bellfield hiding in the attic (“I just went up and got him – thought it might save a lot of ******* about.”) and a frantic search for mundane but nonetheless incriminating evidence was required for the Crown Prosecution Service to bring charges. What it came down to, in a lot of ways, was a receipt.
But in many more ways what it came down to was good, old-fashioned, unglamorous policing, and it was here again that Manhunt truly excelled. Ed Whitmore’s adaptation of Sutton’s memoirs has been rich with detail but also mindful of its subject and audience. Despite its steadfast refusal to sensationalize the case, it was also remarkably adept at wringing drama and suspense from the rigors of the investigation and gridlocked interdepartmental politics, which came to a head in Manhunt Episode 3 when Surrey police initially rejected Bellfield as a suspect for the murder of Milly Dowler.
The performances were note-perfect too. Clunes was eminently likable as the mild-mannered copper and Katie Lyon did a lot with very little as his loyal partner DS Jo Brunt. Jones went to town with the smug, slimy serial killer whose eventual comeuppance was remarkably satisfying, and Claudie Blakley turned in consistently excellent work as Sutton’s put-upon wife.
But what it all came down to, really, was the ever-present reality that these were real crimes visited upon real people, and that what brought the perpetrator to justice was not a superhero or a sixth sense or blind luck, but a dogged investigator and a hard-working team who devoted hours upon hours to scouring CCTV footage and shop receipts and vehicle registrations. It brought to the forefront the real efforts of real people solving real crimes, and at a time when mistrust and derision of law enforcement are so prevalent, it was a pleasure to see justice done.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.