Claustrophobes, beware — there’s a sequence in new Brighton-set crime drama Grace that’s shot in a terrifyingly confined space. In fact, so nerve jangling are these moments that you’ll be checking the exit points of your living room. And maybe even running through them.
It’s a wonder, really, that Grace is being shown before the watershed in the normally sedate haven of a Sunday evening. Midsomer Murders, this isn’t. At times, it’s more like Luther by the seaside.
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (John Simm) is also a far more damaged person than, say, the bucolic Inspector Barnaby. His backstory is a tragic one, in that beloved wife Sandy disappeared six years ago on his 40th birthday and he’s been trying to track her down ever since.
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She may have run off, she might have been murdered, but one thing’s for sure: Sandy’s absence means we’re going to experience this trauma through Grace’s eyes. There may not be a corpse, but this is ‘fridging’, all right. Albeit, with a get-out-of-the-fridge-free card that can be deployed at a time of the show’s choosing.
What this unsolved mystery has also given Grace is an open-minded attitude about the occult. He’s not above using mediums to help track down missing persons and, when we meet him, is facing flak in court and from his Angry Police Boss (played by Rakie Ayola) for consulting a psychic on a recent investigation.
Now, this aspect to our hero’s make-up does feel novel, in that TV detectives are usually committed rational thinkers who have no truck with notions of the spiritual realm.
Think Sherlock Holmes debunking the myth of the spectral Hound of the Baskervilles and revealing the dog on Dartmoor to have phosphorous on its chops. Or Jonathan Creek exposing magic for being sleight-of-hand trickery.
Grace is coming at his cases from a different angle, in that he genuinely seems to believe that a clairvoyant dangling a pendulum over a map could help track down an errant property developer and groom-to-be who’s vanished on his stag night.
Not that he’s totally lost to the supernatural. Because, let’s face it, where would an ITV police procedural be without scenes set in briefing rooms where coppers stare at whiteboards filled with mugshots and post-it notes?
Here, dramatist Russell Lewis (who’s adapted Peter James’s bestsellers) is very much on terra firma, having previously scripted the likes of Taggart, Inspector Morse and — most recently — Endeavour. Simm, too, has a proven pedigree in this field and, at 50, is now looking appropriately lived-in and frayed.
The broadcaster has also been canny in scheduling this pilot a week before the return of BBC1’s Line of Duty in order to avoid a clash. When Grace comes back for a second outing later in the year, it’ll have a built-in audience that won’t have been distracted by AC-12’s interrogations.
What it needs to do between now and then is strengthen its female roles. Richie Campbell is given plenty to do as DS Branson, but Laura Elphinstone and Amaka Okafor are wasted as two DCs who merely info-dump in team meetings.
Crime aficionados will, though, relish the plot’s switch-back twists, despite many of them feeling like they ought to have played out in a later timeslot. Just remember to take some calming breaths and to keep an eye on those exits.
Grace airs at 8pm on ITV, from Sunday, 14 March.
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