Not so long ago, Ray Winstone was best known for coruscating performances in films such as Nil By Mouth, Scum and Sexy Beast. These days, he is more readily identified with those grotesquely unforgettable adverts for an online football betting company. So much so that at every ad break during Moonfleet, I half expected Winstone’s giant, disembodied head to float across the screen and growl odds on forthcoming plot developments.
“Three to one, orphan hero John Trenchard to join a band of Dorset smugglers. Five to four, the course of true love with the daughter of the local magistrate won’t run smooth. Evens, the curse of Blackbeard’s diamond will fall on whosoever holds it.”
Nobody swashes a buckle – or buckles a swash, for that matter – quite like Sky Entertainment, and Moonfleet is the perfect action adventure follow-up to its 2012 success Treasure Island. Winstone starred as Elzevir Block, the leader of the smuggler gang and sworn enemy of exciseman Mohune, played to pantomime villain perfection by Ben Chaplin.
The story may have creaked like a leaky galleon, and the climax included a coincidence that was harder to swallow than a bucket of brine, but the breakneck pacing covered a multitude of narrative sins and the screen was never allowed to stay mayhem-free for too long.
Also, Winstone remains an eminently watchable actor, even with much of his credibility in tatters. As my 11-year-old daughter announced, oblivious to all of his previous career choices: “He’s a really good actor, the old man.”
One-off psychological drama The Thirteenth Tale was unapologetically unhurried in its approach to storytelling, working on the theory that the slower the build up, the bigger the frights. It was a theory that was proved correct on several nerve-jangling occasions.
Olivia Colman starred as a journalist summoned to hear the bedside confession of Vanessa Redgrave’s terminally ill, and frequently ill-tempered, bestselling author.
Cue flashback to the 1950s and a decrepit country pile on the Yorkshire Moors, where twin sisters Emmeline and Adeline live a semi-feral existence. Despite being identical in appearance it is easy to tell them apart, as Adeline will be the one launching an unprovoked, frenzied and potentially lethal attack on you.
Heavy on the gothic, with a definite nod in the direction of Jane Eyre, The Thirteenth Tale proceeded to add madness, murder, incest, ghosts and arson into its mix, to compelling and disturbing effect. It was elegantly made, clinically effective and darkly enjoyable.
Horrors of a different kind in Two Doors Down, a one-off comedy drama centred around a Hogmanay party in a lower-middle-class Scottish cul-de-sac, which highlighted the many dangers of mixing alcohol and neighbours.
There was absolutely nothing new about the set-up or surprising about how the story developed, but the first-rate cast delivered some excellent dialogue, there were several memorable slapstick moments and you were left with the distinct impression that writer Simon Carlyle held his assortment of borderline-grotesque characters in great affection.
Moonfleet, Sky1, Saturday, December 28 and Sunday, December 29, 8pm
The Thirteenth Tale, BBC2, Monday, December 30, 9.30pm
Two Doors Down, BBC1, Tuesday, December 31, 9pm