Friday, November 20, 2015

Inspector George Gently: “Gently Going Under" (Company Pictures/BBC/PBS, 2013, released 2014)

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

Last night’s “feature” was a 2014 episode of the 1960’s-set BBC-TV mystery series Inspector George Gently, “Gently Going Under” (the copyright date was 2013 but the episode first aired in the U.K. on February 27, 2014), which seemed to be aiming for a plot that would almost literally have it all: Arthur Hawkes (Ralph Ineson, whose character is dead at the start but seen in enough flashbacks later on he actually has a fair amount of screen time) is a shop steward at the Burnsend coal mine until he’s found dead under mysterious circumstances in the mine. Apparently whoever killed him was trying to fake it to look like he died in a mining accident — his body was even placed next to a seam within the mine that had already been closed down as unsafe — only he lived long enough to crawl out of range so the pilings didn’t just fall on top of him the way whoever killed him was hoping for. Britain’s National Coal Board (which ran the mines from the time Clement Attlee’s Labour government had them nationalized in 1945 until Margaret Thatcher’s government had them denationalized again) is planning to close the Burnsend mine because it’s old, not especially productive and soon to be played out altogether, but the coal board’s representative is meeting with the miners and assuring them that the mine is likely to remain open. Arthur is an old-line labor leader who participated in a strike in the 1930’s (there’s a photo of him doing so on the miners’ union headquarters’ wall) and is trusted by the men, so they listen to him when he talks them out of striking. Then it turns out that he’s well aware the mine is closing and has asked the Coal Board to give him a new job at a mine in Leeds, and naturally when this comes out it ups the ante for Inspector George Gently in that it suddenly gives a lot more people the motive to kill him.

Arthur Hawkes has a penchant for spending his weekends at Newcastle with his best friends from the mines, Billy Shearer (Jack Deam) and Panda Wheelan (Dale Meeks), getting drunk and betting on dog races — in fact the three actually owned three dogs and were working a scam whereby one of their dogs would be doped to slow it down in preliminary races to drive up the odds, so the dog would win the big race when they doped him to run faster (which led to Arthur having 300 pounds in his locker at the mine when he was killed and led Gently to suspect briefly that bookies who’d lost big on this race might have had him done in). It turns out, though, that the real move for Arthur’s murder has to do with his family; his wife died of cancer some years before the story begins, but he has two children, a 20-something son named Sam (Lewis Reeves) and a 17-year-old daughter named Hannah (Poppy Lee Friar). Hannah is having an affair with Joe Turner (Michael Socha), son of a long-time friend of Arthur’s named Peter Turner (Simon Greenall); Joe is startled when his mom Margaret (Lucy Cohu) tries to break him and Hannah up, but he assumes she’s just worried about the age difference. It turns out, though, that the real reason Margaret is so het up about Joe dating Hannah is that they’re actually half-siblings; Joe was conceived when Peter was off fighting in World War II and Arthur Hawkes is his real father. This comes out after Hannah disappears, leaving a big puddle of blood in her home that turns out to be from an illegal D.I.Y. abortion Margaret helped her with, which went so badly Hannah had to be taken to the hospital, and one can readily imagine the writers, Mike Cullen and the uncredited Steve Lightfoot, high-fiving each other and saying, “Look what we got into this episode — coal miners, crooked labor leaders, class struggle, adultery, abortion, incest!” In case you were wondering, the killer is Peter Turner, who even though it's been over two decades since it happens still goes into a jealous hissy-fit when he learns his wife tricked out on him all those many years ago, and gets into an argument with the man she tricked with (and whom he suspect she’s still in love with) lo those many years ago.

The sleuths are George Gently (Martin Shaw) himself — who injures himself in the leg tramping around the mine to investigate the scene of the crime — and his assistant John Bacchus (Lee Ingelby), who looks like he ended up on the Inspector George Gently set by mistake while en route to another BBC studio where they were casting a biopic of the Beatles (he could be passed off as the young John Lennon or George Harrison relatively easily) and whose dialogue is so full of Right-wing attacks on the coal miners and their unions as “Commies” and the like one gets the impression that once Thatcher takes power he’ll feel right at home in the New Britain. I hadn’t cared for the previous Inspector George Gently episode I’d seen — it dealt with anti-nuclear protests and didn’t really rise to the potential of their subject — but I liked this one even though it couldn’t help bur remind me of the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit fifth-season episode “Families,” which also centered around the character of a young man having an intense affair with a woman he doesn’t know (until the end) is his half-sister.