Marcella, series two, epsiode one review: Anna Friel deserves better than this crime-by-numbers drama

Jack Doolan, Anna Friel and Ray Panthaki - Television Stills
Jack Doolan, Anna Friel and Ray Panthaki - Television Stills

"Walls have ears,” goes the saying, and crime drama Marcella (ITV), which returned for a second series, applied it quite literally.  

The first episode began with a workman drilling into plaster, only to recoil in horror when he chanced across a lug-hole. When the brickwork was removed, D S Marcella Backland (Anna Friel) discovered a corpse, which was identified as a schoolboy who had been abducted four years ago. 

This led us to be introduced to a rogue’s gallery of characters who will inevitably become embroiled in the labyrinthine case, including convicted child abuser Phil Dawkins (Peter Sullivan), washed-up rock drummer Reg Reynolds (Nigel Planer) and Eric (Josh Herdman), an Afghan war veteran with anger issues. 

Written by Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of The Bridge, this opener was a box-ticking exercise in Nordic noir tropes. Moody detective with a signature coat and personal problems? Present. Tendency to wander unaccompanied into dark buildings? Naturally. Cameras inching down creepy corridors, while the soundtrack of throbbing electronica built to an ominous crescendo? Why, of course. This stuff has become so clichéd in 21st-century whodunits, it has lost its power to thrill. Which must be why webcams, food banks and zero-hours contracts were all thrown into the mix in an attempt for it to seem timely. 

This drama offered a depressingly bleak view of the world where everyone was either a serial killer, a predatory paedophile, a philandering swindler, a violent thug or just gruntingly dysfunctional. Even a child’s drawing and a pet mouse were imbued with sinister foreboding. 

Anna Friel as Marcella - Credit: ITV
Anna Friel as Marcella Credit: ITV

Meanwhile, Marcella herself was a tough heroine to root for. She was sour-faced and surly with everyone – not just criminals but colleagues, witnesses, even her boyfriend, who had the gall to cook her dinner and ask how her day had been.

Her sporadic fugue states and suicidal tendencies felt tacked-on to give her a personality quirk, rather than a key part of the plot. At least in the debut series, these violent blackouts made Marcella a suspect in the murder she was investigating. Here, they merely added gratuitous angst and, frankly, we had quite enough of that already. Friel is a fine actress who deserves better than this crime-by-numbers nonsense.