The director and screen writer of DCI Banks: Cold is the Grave have finally found the perfect way in which to use a monosyllabic cop who looks as if he would rather smack you round the head for fun than ask you for the time of day. DCI Banks (Stephen Tompkinson) is summoned to the home of his immediate boss, Chief Supt Gerry Rydell (Colin Tierney). Police procedural series like this would always be in trouble unless almost all the families on display were dysfunctional in some significant way. Having been through a marriage between an old man and an underage girl, the feckless working class family from which the victim came, we now have the middle class equivalent. This time, it’s the senior police officer who’s misplaced his daughter, Emily Rydell (Scarlett Rose Patterson). Rosalind Rydell (Anna Wilson-Jones), his wife, has done a little research using the ever reliable Google and has discovered a topless photo (what those in the trade call glamour) taken in a London studio.
At this point, I’m obliged to signal a major departure from the novels by Peter Robinson which, in all the circumstances, substantially undermines the potential of this adaptation. In the books to this point, DCI Banks has been seriously at odds with CS Rydell. This is a natural tension between the practical cop who just wants to get on and solve crimes, and an ambitious senior manager who has political ambitions. So, in the book, Banks initial refusal to work under the radar to recover the daughter has much greater force. When he finally gives it, there’s an implied quid pro quo that Rydell will let Banks have more responsibility. That the whole expedition comes unstuck adds to the irony of the situation. In this version, not that much arm-twisting is necessary to despatch Banks to track down the missing daughter and bring her home. This leads to some wonderfully melodramatic staring contests when our hero confronts Barry Clough (Terence Maynard), the stereotypical villain, and his sullen heavy, Niall Gilbert (Andonis Anthony). The villain likes his women young. The heavy likes his boss to enjoy life in peace. But Banks in his psycho mode is not to be denied. Except, although he peels away the unwilling daughter and returns her to Yorkshire, this does not save her. She’s later found dead in a toilet at a bar. This just goes to show playing the daughter of a senior cast member is no defence to death. If a criminal from London wants you dead, you’re dead so that our hero can get back into staring mode again and decide whether it’s to be fisticuffs at dawn or straight into the interview room for confrontations and denials.
Meanwhile DS Annie Cabbot (Andrea Lowe) in the absence of Banks, is de facto in control of the Serious Crimes Unit and runs a case of armed carjacking where the carjacker ends up on the receiving end of a bullet in what looks like a professional hit. Now we have the use of undercranking dark clouds building up and doing that boiling thing as early evening comes on. This signals a shift of pace as the shit hits the fan. Never let there be a visual cliché unused in this series. With the body being moved down to the morgue, Banks gets hauled over the coals for going off to London without permission while there was a major case involving a homicide left to be covered by Annie. So Banks has to recover the situation. He asks how the killer knew the identity of the carjacker. There was only some 24 hours between identifying the fingerprints and the man being found dead. When the team does a quiet listing of database searches, there’s a worrying name in the frame. So now we get into the fan spreading the shit all around. Word comes up from the London hotel that Banks spent the night in the same bedroom as the deceased daughter who had presented as very drunk, calling him her “Sugar Daddy” as they collected the room key from reception.
When the dust settles, everyone in the supporting roles in this sorry affair is either dead or under arrest. More generally, I can’t remember a story with this number of wrecked reputations before. Only Annie seems to earn any credit and even she emerges as sanctimonious and somewhat unpleasant. So overall, DCI Banks: Cold is the Grave is very bleak. Although we get all the loose ends tied up, this has been a story about desperately unhappy people. Some expressly criminal. Others criminal on impulse, but with dire consequences. Quite what the police force would do after a catastrophe of this magnitude is left to our collective imagination. I should note that, in the book by Peter Robinson, there’s a slightly less dramatic ending which “feels” more realistic. The television version feels deliberately grim as if it wants to make a point about how dramatic life is “in the North”.