Friday, December 18, 2015

Inspector George Gently: “Gently with the Women” (BBC, 2015)

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

I watched a KPBS showing of an episode of the BBC policier Inspector George Gently, a show whose distinction is that though it’s a contemporary production it takes place in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s and the plots reflect the social changes of that tumultuous time as they finally filter up to Durham in the north of England, where Inspector George Gently (Martin Shaw) and his strait-laced young assistant, Sgt. John Bacchus (Lee Ingelby) — who wears the pudding-bowl haircut of the early Beatles but is considerably more socially and politically conservative than the much older Gently, work as police officers and deal with crimes involving radical politics, the class struggle (one of the previous episodes dealt with the closure of a British coal mine and the economic dislocation that ensued). This episode was called “Gently with the Women” and is about the increasing awareness of rape being built by the feminist movement versus the almost reflexive dismissal of it by the males dominating the police at the time. The show kicks off with the rape and murder of a woman who’d got off a bus in Durham and, because she needed to use the bathroom, didn’t get back on the bus when it left and was later found dead — though at first her body is unidentified and it’s only when Bacchus gets a hunch that she might have been passing through on a bus (a “coach,” as the British call them in one of those quirky differences in terminology between American English and English English) because there’s nothing linking her to Durham that the cops figure out who she was and why she was vulnerable. Meanwhile the cops are confronted with a woman named Tina Hall (a good performance by Emily Woof) who says she was gang-raped by three men. The cops discount her story and obviously believe that because she works as a prostitute she was clearly “asking for it.”

Later, prodded by the woman on his staff, Rachel Coles (Lisa McGrillis), Gently does a study of how the rape cases processed by the Durham police have proceeded — and he’s shocked that out of 108 rape complaints in the previous year, only about 20 even resulted in judicial proceedings; the rest were either found groundless by the police or “withdrawn” by the women under ferocious pressure from the cops not to bother them with such trivial crimes. Gently is shocked that out of these 108 rapes, only six of the rapists were actually arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. At first suspicion in the murder goes to Stuart MacMillan (Jeremy Swift), the man who was running the bus stop, but it turns out he’s a nut who’s previously confessed to four other murders — and the cops keep looking. While all of this was going on, a “sting” at a local bordello results in the johns’ names being taken down for publication — but Bacchus lets one man slide because he’s a police inspector named Walter Nunn (Derek Riddell) and because Bacchus, strait-laced as he is when it comes to the counter-culture, is having an affair with Nunn’s wife Gemma (Annabel Scholey). Gently discovers that Bacchus is having an affair and deduces who she is; he tells Bacchus to break it off, but meanwhile his inquiries about Nunn because Nunn has never actually taken a rape case (he’s always browbeaten the woman to withdraw the complaint) lead Nunn to figure out that his wife is sleeping with Bacchus, and he goes to Bacchus’s apartment and threatens to beat him up if Bacchus continues the affair. In all of this, Gently decides to re-investigate the rape complaint Tina made two years earlier, which Nunn persuaded her to drop because the man was one of her “clients,” and for a time Gently is convinced that Nunn himself — a rotter who likes to strangle his partners while fucking them from behind — is the rapist/killer. It turns out, however, that Nunn has a solid alibi — even though his solid alibi is that he was at the bordello all night and had tricks with three different women while there (including an engaging character named Monica, whom we never meet but we’re told is a primary-school teacher who turned to prostitution as a second source of income when her husband lost his job) — and the real killer is Alan Salt (Robert Whitelock), who tells the women he picks up to “call me Mr. Smith” (how unoriginal!) before he has sex with them, roughs them up and, in at least two cases, kills them.

This show, written by series creator Peter Flannery, was by far the best of the Gently episodes I’ve seen; it managed to make the political and social points (including endorsing the feminist perspective that even men who would never consider committing rape themselves don’t take it all that seriously as a crime — one way in which Gently persuades Tina to come back to the cops after their initial airy dismissal of her complaint is to promise her that Rachel the policewoman will be her interviewer) without hammering them home or getting as preachy as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has too frequently with similar stories. The show manages to mesh the police-procedural story, the interlocking plot lines and the social commentary much more smoothly than previous Gently episodes have done, and the ending is a finely honed suspense sequence in which Tina, asked by the police to serve as a decoy in hopes of luring Salt out and giving them a chance to arrest him, loses her “handlers” and the cops have to track her down before they catch Salt holding a knife to her throat and get him in the nick of time. Inspector George Gently is a seven-year-old series — one of those ones British TV throws up in which they only make about three or four episodes a year to keep the premise fresh — and the episodes are an hour and a half long (about the traditional length of a feature film, though most theatrical movies today are longer than that), which gives their writers and director (this one was helmed by Roger Goldby) a chance to do complicated multi-plot stories without giving us the sense that they’re racing to crowd in all the denouements in a 42-minute “hour” time slot. It’s also well acted in the great British tradition, and I’ll confess that while he’s no patch on Christopher Meloni, Lee Ingleby is quite cute and I certainly wouldn’t mind having an adulterous affair with him!