The big gimmick in Chris Lang’s Unforgotten (ITV) continues to be that there are no gimmicks. As it eased into the second episode of a much-anticipated fourth season, the cold case thriller once again steered clear of the recent trend for police procedurals to chuck in bombshells at every opportunity. If this was a Jed Mercurio production there would already be a dozen subplots, two backstabbings and enough red herrings to feed a flock of seagulls.
But Lang is a minimalist and kept the story on the straight and narrow. DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) were calmly proceeding with piecing together the circumstances leading to the murder 31 years previously of Millwall tattoo-sporting ne’er do well Matthew Walsh.
The clues clicked into place slowly and logically. As they did, Unforgotten paid the audience the compliment of not assuming a super-short attention span. It feels strange to describe a show that opened with a decapitated frozen corpse turning up in a scrapyard as “slow TV” but there is something wonderfully unruffled about Unforgotten. It never feels in a hurry. And so the viewer is never at risk of being overwhelmed by the accumulation of detail.
Cassie and Sunny discovered Matthew had a son, whose mother had died of a heroin overdose in 2006. Jerome was now grown up and wanted as little as possible to do with his parents’ self-destructive legacy. Familial angst was likewise plaguing Cassie, whose father (Peter Egan), in the early stages of dementia, had announced he was writing Cassie’s children out of the will. Was his illness to blame? Or new girlfriend, Jen (Janet Dibley)?
Back at work our sleuths were still in the dark as to how, on the night of his disappearance in 1990, Walsh’s body had seemingly ended up in the boot of a car. They were stumped, too, as to how the vehicle could have been driven by a group of newly-qualified police officers, including the deceased Robert Fogerty (in whose home the corpse was then stored for decades). Bent coppers, eh?
With the plot thickening satisfyingly, we were drip-fed further details of the suspects’s lives three decades later. The shifty Ram Sidhu (Phaldut Sharma) was still a police officer, though with his wife suffering through a difficult pregnancy his domestic woes were almost as challenging as Cassie’s. He also faced a sexual harassment complaint, which he claimed was racially motivated.
Liz Baildon (Susan Lynch) likewise remained a copper – and in line for a big promotion to Chief Constable of East Anglia (her spiteful mother, portrayed with delicious villainy by Sheila Hancock, prattled on bitterly about the skeletons in her daughter’s closet). Gone from the force were therapist Fiona Grayson (Liz White) and Dean Barton (Andy Nyman), an air-conditioning wholesaler struggling to leave behind a criminal past.
At one level this really was just a glorified game of Cluedo: which of the quartet had killed Matthew Walsh and what did the rest know? But Walker’s reliably empathic performance as Stuart and a plot that snapped together confidently ensured that the old-school format was not a weakness. If anything it was a strength, as Unforgotten quietly and defiantly got on with business.