British crime novelist Mark Billingham has created a wildly popular series (nine books so far, I believe) featuring the complicated Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. I guess it seemed inevitable, therefore, that someone would attempt to adapt them for the screen. These television interpretations of his first two novels "Sleepyhead" and "Scaredy Cat" are certainly well constructed and well acted, but they lack a bit of the surprise factor for those that follow this type of entertainment. Oh, blessed serial murderers! Where would popular entertainment be without them? Thankfully there aren't as many in real life as those that populate the pages of detective fiction as well as police procedurals in film and TV. Imagine if there were, they would now outnumber ordinary citizens by a wide margin! I know, especially with "Sleepyhead," diehard fans of the books were upset with the liberties taken with the text. I'm always somewhat pragmatic about these things. I don't require an exact replication of a book on film, what a dull world this would be with zero artistic license.
Sleepyhead (3 1/2 stars): In this chapter, we meet the enigmatic Thorne (well played by David Morrissey). A seasoned professional that oftentimes steps outside of conventional procedure, he's operates as a relative loner in the department. Thorne is haunted by a past that includes a previous run-in with a serial murderer, and so his hunches keep him attuned to unorthodox cases. A mysterious body leads Thorne to conclude another multiple murderer might be loose. The case breaks when a young woman is discovered alive, but she is trapped in a mental prison and completely unable to communicate or move. Thorne, aided by his closest pal (a pathologist played by Aiden Gillen) start to believe there might be some relationship to the past. Can they unravel these connections? And what unspeakable conspiracy ties these two men together? The murder mystery seems to be centered around the hospital. But with only three possible suspects, it's not too hard to piece things together before the big reveal.
What distinguishes "Sleepyhead" (and Scaredycat as well) is a terrific performance by Morrissey. Even when the material feels somewhat familiar, Morrissey keeps you invested. His scenes with Gillen (in both shows) is an absolute highpoint in acting. Of course, the plot does require a fair amount of suspension of belief. It's all so intricately conceived and executed (I always enjoy when the murderer is a mad genius), but then turns into a bloody public massacre (with no witnesses?) when necessary. There is a requisite love interest in Natasha NcElhone, whose daughter just might get to close to the action. Too convenient by far, the piece is still grounded by Morrissey and an interesting film technique that weaves the past with the present.
ScaredyCat (4 stars): Truthfully, I had deduced what was happening in this chapter in about 20 minutes. But I also liked it better than "Sleepyhead." A pair of murderers (one reticent and one gung-ho) seem to be working in tandem. When a young boy is found to have witnessed the death of his mother, this makes it very personal for Thorne. Early on, we discover the identity of the mild-mannered accomplice, but finding his dangerous partner poses a huge problem. We see a bit more of the personal Thorne here (his mother has just died), and his squad has a new addition in Sandra Oh. Oh adds a nice element of unpredictability even as a dalliance with a fellow cop seems out of left field (he is seen as happily married in the first installment and nothing is developed). Again, though, Gillen's scenes with Morrissey are really well done. As I said, I'd solved the mystery with hours left to go, but I still thought this was a fun ride.
Both of these features should please followers of crime fiction. There is nothing revelatory here, but the performances make it well worth the investment. KGHarris, 6/12.