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TV review: Undeniable; The Crimson Field

Peter Firth and Claire Goose in ITV's Undeniable. Photo: ITV

It is a given, in any TV drama pre-credits, that if a mother and daughter are shown driving through the countryside, joyfully singing along to the radio and showing not a care in the world, one or both of them will shortly be suffering a horribly violent death. This is what’s known in television as the First Law of Casualty.

ITV’s two-part psychological thriller Undeniable kills off only the mother, bludgeoned over the head with a rock during a picnic stop. Her daughter Jane, capering down by the lakeside, is spared but sees the face of the murderer as he leaves the scene of the crime.

Flashing forward 23 years, we meet the adult Jane (Claire Goose), now with a beautiful young daughter of her own, a loving husband and a baby on the way. But her life hasn’t always been so idyllic.

Jane, we learn from some exposition that is itself about as subtle as being bludgeoned over the head with a rock, has endured terrible torments since the day of her mother’s death, and these have taken a toll on her mental health.

[pullquote]Undeniable soon beds down into an enjoyable and altogether intriguing modern melodrama[/pullquote]

So when Jane claims to recognise the killer, following a chance encounter at the local hospital, not everybody is inclined to believe her. Especially as the man identified happens to be a senior oncologist (Peter Firth) with decades of blemish-free service to the community and an OBE to boot.

Undeniable may be rather over-dependent on cliches to get its premise established, but it soon beds down into an enjoyable and altogether intriguing modern melodrama. It asks, or rather dares, its audience to choose who the victim is: the accused or the accuser. It then tests that choice by manipulating sympathies, undermining preconceptions and introducing a stream of small but significant revelations. It is all very cleverly constructed, finely performed and, by the end of the first episode, irresistibly compulsive.

For those readers already worn out by television’s response to the First World War’s centenary, all I can say to reassure you is that it will all be over by Christmas. For those still interested – myself among them – there is the BBC’s promising new costume drama The Crimson Field.

The setting is a British field hospital in northern France, 1915. It is, one has to say, a spotlessly clean field hospital, given the carnage they would be expected to deal with. But whether this is a concession to the sensitivities of its Sunday-evening audience, or the product of historical research, I couldn’t say.

Enter a group of volunteer nurses with starkly different reasons for offering their services to King and Country: some are selfless, some selfish and some – like Oona Chaplin’s wilful, stroppy and insubordinate Kitty – shrouded in mystery. Hermione Norris plays the head nurse, charged with sorting this ’orrible shower out.

Ade at Sea is not a comment on Adrian Edmondson’s recent career, but the formerly anarchic funny man’s latest inoffensive travelogue/documentary set off Britain’s coastline. Last week, three sailors took Ade up the Manchester Ship Canal, as he would doubtless have put it himself during his Bottom heyday.

Undeniable, ITV, Monday, April 7, 9pm
The Crimson Field, BBC1, Sunday, April 6, 9pm
Ade at Sea, ITV, Thursday, April 3, 8.30pm

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