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15 June 2017

What I love about Fearless is its messiness

Its heroine's frantic and complicated life, and her relish for every single one of its constituent parts, feel so wonderfully replete.

By Rachel Cooke

First, the good news. ITV’s pair of new dramas are led by a trio of female actors, all of whom just happen to be over 40. Naturally, I approve of this. The bad news is that one of these series is beneath its stars’ considerable talents. Sample dialogue: “You’ve a cold-blooded predator in your town.” Oh, my eyes. Not even the peerless Siobhan Finneran can make this sound convincing.

But first. In Fearless (Mondays, 9pm), Helen McCrory plays Emma Banville, an old-fashioned lefty solicitor – Gareth Pierce with the voice of a Mitford – who shares her London terrace with her sexy but possibly feckless ex-tabloid snapper boyfriend, Steve (the comedian John Bishop, turning in a rather good straight performance), as well as a lodger called Miriam (Karima McAdams), the wife of a recently absconded Syrian doctor. (It’s thanks to Miriam that MI5 seems to be keeping tabs on Emma’s movements.)

Work is the thing that motivates our heroine: specifically, hopeless legal cases. The battered Volvo she drives attests to this, as does the way that when Steve comes in late from the pub and rubs his beard meaningfully on the top of her head, she’d rather continue listening to police interview tapes on an old Walkman than scoot upstairs.

But perhaps this is about to change. She and Steve are trying to adopt. “I need something else,” she tells a colleague, in a voice that is more mystified than full of longing. Maternal desire has taken her by surprise, and she would like to keep it in its place. Don’t expect her to give up smoking her liquorice roll-ups any time soon.

Her latest cause involves a man who has spent the past 14 years in prison for the murder of a teenage girl – and here we must pause for a moment to note that the plot-eating American shows (Homeland, 24) on which Patrick Harbinson, the writer of this series, has previously worked do not do patience, let alone bureaucracy. How else to explain why, when Emma applies to have Kevin Russell’s case investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, she has to wait, not many months, but a couple of days, tops, for the response? Ta-dah! The next thing we knew in the first episode (12 June), Russell (Sam Swainsbury) was standing in front of a judge as his conviction was quashed. Poor Steve, however, is ­going to have to rub his beard elsewhere for a while; there is to be a retrial.

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What I love about Fearless is its messiness: Emma’s frantic and complicated life, and her relish for every single one of its constituent parts, feel so wonderfully replete. Even better, her character is exhilaratingly free from the wing-clipping flaws that writers of both sexes usually give to “strong” but hard-pressed screen women.

Capable and clever, she is also warm and (mostly) content. No wonder that, beside her, DCI Lauren Quigley, the police detective played by Siobhan Finneran in The Loch (Sundays, 9pm), comes off like a robot. “Beauty of nature,” she announced, taking in the mountains around Loch Ness (she’s on secondment from the big city). “Bores the living shit out of me.”

On paper, the writer Stephen Brady probably thought this sounded a bit daring: here is a woman with whom no one is likely to mess. But on screen, the fresh-painted hills looking so pristine that you half expect to see a dinosaur lumbering into view, it just sounded stupid. No one could be bored by countryside like this – and Quigley, in any case, has a murder investigation to spice things up.

What to say about The Loch? Think of it as Wee Broadchurch. In the first episode, a gay teacher, who’d just had a row with a religious neighbour – “THIS IS A CHRISTIAN HOUSE!” – was found dead out on the hills. His brain had been removed via his nose. Meanwhile, a human heart (not his) was found elsewhere. Who will catch the monster (likely a serial killer rather than a plesiosaur) responsible for this butchery? Will it be Quigley? Or will it be the inexperienced but desperately eager local copper Annie Redford (Laura Fraser)? All I can say is that, with so many weirdos in the vicinity – each villager comes with a metaphorical neon sign above his head that says: “I’ve got a secret, me!” – they’re certainly going to be spoiled for suspects. 

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This article appears in the 14 Jun 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel