Saturday, September 5, 2015

Vera; “Death of a Family Man" (Independent Television Service/American Public Television, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man I watched the latest episode of Vera, an ITS (Independent Television Service) British production aired on PBS and a quite good policier featuring the middle-aged Inspector Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn), who heads the police force in Northumberland, an English town close to the Scottish border and the moor country. While other British authors, ranging from William Shakespeare to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had done more with this part of England than Vera creator Ann Cleeves and Martha Hillier, who wrote this particular episode, “Death of a Family Man,” this was still a good whodunit. The victim — discovered when a women’s rowing crew at the local college are practicing and their boat literally crashes into the body in the river they’re using as their practice run — is John Shearwood (Ian van Temperley, whom as usual we’re introduced to as a corpse but eventually see more of in flashbacks), who’s got an estranged wife, Stella (Maibritt Saerens); a son, Billy (Billy Howle), who’s got into drugs (they’ve spent a small fortune on various rehab clinics) ever since he ran down a little boy in his car, killing him, and narrowly escaped a manslaughter charge; an embezzling partner in his delivery business, Mark Donovan (Tim Dantay); an Inland Revenue agent who’s asked Shearwood to inform on the other participants in an illegal liquor-smuggling business; and a mistress, Gemma Makins (Clare Kerrigan), with whom he’s planning to run off to France and who’s pregnant with his child — and who, just to make things kinkier, is also the mother of the child his son Billy ran down with his car. Only, in an odd but not entirely surprising twist, it turns out Billy didn’t kill the kid — John himself had taken the wheel of the car at that point, and the son agreed to take the rap for his dad because previously his driving record had been “clean” and his dad’s hadn’t, but that was before the victim’s condition took a turn for the worse and he died in hospital instead of surviving his injuries. Obviously Martha Hillier was following the old whodunit plotting strategy of giving the victim as many people as possible who had reason to hate him so there’d be plenty of suspects around whom she could distribute suspicion before the final revelation — Mark Donovan was the actual killer; he and John were having an argument over John’s mistress and Mark accidentally pitched him off his balcony into the nearby river, then tied his shoelaces together to make sure he couldn’t swim his way out. It’s not much of a resolution but the story had a kind of cruel appeal to it, and it benefited from the final appearance of the attractive David Leon as Vera’s assistant, Joe Ashworth — he left the series after this episode in 2014 — though one of Vera’s other staff was a kick-ass woman with black hair, a leather jacket and black form-fitting jeans, who’d be a good choice for Diana Rigg’s part if someone wants to remake the TV series The Avengers and who looks like she’s being groomed to take over from Leon as Vera’s assistant!