DCI BANKS (2011)


Director: James Hawkes, Paul Whittington, Bill Anderson, Mark Losey

Writers: Robert Murphy, Laurence Davey
(Based on the novels by Peter Robinson)

Cast: Stephen Tompkinson, Lorraine Burroughs, Jack Deam, Andrea Lowe, Colin Tierney...

Runtime: 45 minutes per episode part (except the pilot)

Genres: Modern TV British crime/drama/mystery

Reviewed by Larry Jung

I watched the pilot and the first three DCI Banks episodes twice through. As a fan of the DCI Alan Banks novels by Peter Robinson, I was interested to see how the books translated to episodic TV. As a fan of MIDSOMER MURDERS, NEW TRICKS, the Granada SHERLOCK HOLMES, POIROT, WIRE IN THE BLOOD, and other British mystery and crime shows, I was eager to find a new mystery series as entertaining and as well done.

I, of course, didn't expect a slavish imitation of the books. The character of DCI Alan Banks has developed over more than a dozen books. Robinson wanted Banks to be an everyman, a man with faults and problems like you and me. Professionally Banks was no superhero or hard man. His past affair with DS Annie Cabbot, the main secondary character in the books, has caused continuing friction and tension between the two that often affects their police work. In the books, Robinson has the space to play out their emotional relationship and how it affects their current investigations. His wife Sandra has divorced him and has a baby with her new partner, something Banks cannot come to grips with. He has barely reconciled with his two children, Brian and Tracy. He has no friends or real acquaintances outside of work. For a time, Banks was on the brink of a breakdown and was on extended leave from the police force. In several investigations, in order to get results, Banks has cut-corners with proper police procedure. This sort of behavior has put an end to his career. A major strength of the books is their palatable sense of place, and a sense of a particular rural community populated with its locals inhabitants.

The DCI Banks TV series by ITV and Left Hand Pictures stars Stephen Tompkinson as Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and Andrea Lowe as Detective Sergeant Annie Cabbot. The stories are about the Major Crimes Squad in Yorkshire, England. DCI Banks is the senior investigating officer. He is a copper who is good at catching villains but whose methods often get him into trouble. Also he has trouble with authority. Banks is driven and outspoken. Once on a case, he makes it a one man moral crusade to catch the guilty and make them pay. DS Cabbot joins the team after a successful case with Banks. He has her reassigned from what we in the U.S. call internal affairs to his Major Crimes Squad. Cabbot leaps at this career opportunity. She is young and smart, attractive and ambitious. She uses every opportunity to grab the spotlight. She is not above undercutting Banks in front of his boss one minute, the next minute shamelessly flirting with Banks, then the next minute going behind Banks' back gathering evidence.

The two-part pilot is based on the novel AFTERMATH by Peter Robinson. A sadistic serial killer is accidentally killed during a domestic call to the police. But things are not what they appear to be on the surface. The investigation uncovers the ugly consequences of domestic abuse that poisons supposedly loving family relationships. Charlotte Riley as Lucy Payne, the wife of a serial killer, is the best part of this episode. Her scenes playing mind-games with Stephen Tompkinson are subtly intense and gripping.

The next three installments are also based on the DCI Banks novels. PLAYING WITH FIRE has Banks and Cabbot investigate an arson that burned two canal boats. A man in one boat and a young woman in the other were burned to death. Who was the intended victim? The possible motives are child abuse and art fraud. FRIEND OF THE DEVIL opens with the mysterious death of an invalid woman. Her throat is cut and she is left to die on the spot where Banks and Cabbot concluded the AFTERMATH case. Banks hands this case off to Cabbot as he investigates the rape and murder of a young girl in town. The two cases come together is a surprising way. I was disappointed that the character of Dr. Elizabeth Waring, played by Raquel Cassidy, was not really explored. She was, I think, the heart of the episode. The last story is COLD IS THE GRAVE. Banks reluctantly does a personal favor to find the runaway daughter of his boss, Superintendent Gerry Rydell. Rydell is strictly out-of-bounds for asking Banks. Banks knows it is a breach in professional conduct to help Rydell. It is the pleading of Rydell's wife that sways Banks to go to London to find the daughter, Emily. Banks has a daughter too. This leaves DS Cabbot to run the investigation of an armed robbery and the subsequent killing of the robber by a professional hit man. Two more murders happen, and Cabbot and Banks begin to suspect a connection linking the three murders. The poetic justice of the ending makes this the most satisfying the three installments.

Though based on the books, I felt the film makers failed to bring DCI Banks and his fictional Yorkshire to life. I was disappointed in Stephen Tompkinson's performance. His DCI Banks has only three modes: glaring, staring, and screaming. The rest of the time he was just awkward. I never warmed to the character. His seeming passion for justice struck me as an excuse to browbeat vulnerable people or to get back at his social betters. I dislike the character of DS Annie Cabbot. But maybe I'm supposed to. I thought she would be more like the character of the novels. In any case, there is no chemistry between Andrea Lowe, who plays Cabbot, and Tompkinson. I was impressed how well Lorraine Burroughs played DS Winsome Jackman, the efficient secondary character who does the tedious legwork and is a stock character in most current cop shows. The stories themselves were, as one review put it, watchable but nothing new. With the 60 minute format, there is little room to explore the people and the community impacted by the crime and murders. There is much to explore. The stories touch on family, trust, and the abuse of power and position. How physical and mental abuse from the ones who we expect to love and cherish us can manifest itself into human monsters who perpetuate the horrors they endured. The focus is Banks and Cabbot, who I think, are the weakest part of the series.

The week when AFTERMATH was shown, it was the fifth most-watched program on the ITV network. Enough people watched the next three DCI Banks installments that another six episodes have been filmed. The stories are watchable, as mentioned before, but don't expect to find Peter Robinson's DCI Banks and the atmospheric Yorkshire of the books. When this review was written DCI BANKS was not available in the U.S. or Canada. For those of you who don't want to wait and have a region-free DVD player, the DVDs are available from the U.K.

Would you like to read a second review of the DCI Banks TV series? Please click here.

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