CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: The bloodthirsty killer and poetic justice

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: The bloodthirsty killer and a real case of poetic justice

The Pembrokeshire Murders


Mark Kermode’s Secrets Of Cinema: British Comedy


One of the many pet hates for a long-ago editor of mine was the phrase ‘brutal murder’.

‘All murders are brutal,’ he’d growl at guilty reporters, in a tone implying that next time, he might have to prove it.

The cliche cropped up in a batch of newspaper cuttings on The Pembrokeshire Murders (ITV), based on the police investigation that trapped serial killer John Cooper. But no crimes ever deserved that word ‘brutal’ more than Cooper’s.

Screenwriter Nick Stevens did not hide their viciousness, nor overlay any of the seedy glamour that disguises some of the violence in the other true-life drama airing now, BBC1’s The Serpent.

Luke Evans imbued the policeman in charge of the investigation with a deep humanity and a touch of the poet

One middle-aged couple, Richard and Helen Thomas, were blasted at close range with a shotgun in 1985 before their home was burned down with their bodies inside. Three years later, two other married victims, Peter and Gwenda Dixon, were also shot dead, their corpses dumped on the Pembrokeshire coastal path. Bloodlust, as much as robbery, appeared to be the motive in both cases.

To offset the sheer horror of the murders, Luke Evans imbued the policeman in charge of the investigation, Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilkins, with a deep humanity and a touch of the poet.

Recently divorced, Wilkins was striving to stay close to his teenage children. We sensed he had spent too little time with his wife and young family and now, too late, he was struggling to make amends.

He was also drinking too much. At home he was never without a glass of wine, and he took a hip flask to work.

But stray details revealed a reflective side, such as the telescope in his apartment that looked out towards the Irish Sea.

Tragic mystery of the week:

Detectives bungled their probe into the apparent suicide in India of Jiah Khan, 25, a Mumbai film star brought up in London. Death In Bollywood (BBC2) began by laying bare what police missed. Part two of this disturbing report airs tonight.

And when he connected an unsolved rape from decades ago to Cooper, he told his team how it fitted into the inquiry: the murders were the building blocks of the case, the sexual assault was the mortar that bound it together.

You don’t get images like that from most TV detectives. Imagine the look of disdain on DCI Vera’s face if her Super came out with that one.

So far we haven’t seen much of Cooper, played by Keith Allen (father of Lily). The killer is a bullying little man, trying to wheedle his way out of prison where he is serving 16-years for armed robbery. 

According to Mark Kermode’s laboured and ham-fisted theories, the fact Cooper is a little man in every sense — downtrodden, unlucky, physically weedy but with delusions of grandeur — makes him the archetypal British comic hero.

The waffling movie critic argued repeatedly in his Secrets Of Cinema: British Comedy (BBC4) that all comedy comes down to this, from Charlie Chaplin and Norman Wisdom to the hapless suicide bombers in Chris Morris’s terrorism farce, Four Lions.

Oh, and Paddington, too, apparently. He’s a ‘little man’, or so says Mr Movies. 

Sitting on an ancient three-piece suite with a generous glass of whisky on the table in front of him, Mark shuffled movie clips like a card sharp, switching them round so quickly that the screen was just a blur.

Mostly, the sound was muted, so he could lecture us about why we should (or shouldn’t) find each scene funny.

Here he is on nude scenes in Calendar Girls and The Full Monty: ‘So it’s interesting that two of the most popular comedies from the past 25 years see very different sets of characters shedding social convention by shedding their clothes.’

Are you laughing yet?

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