DVD Review: Manhunt – The Complete Series: Part Three

Part three of Walter Dunlop’s marathon viewing of ITV drama Manhunt (you might want to check out part one or two if you haven’t already) continues, episodes 15 – 22 coming under the spotlight as things get even more serious for Vincent, Nina and Jimmy in World War Two France…

Warning – spoilers ahoy! It’s going to prove impossible to discuss these episodes without letting things slip, so…you have been warned!

Into the second half of the series we go, and things aren’t exactly looking positive for our jolly band of regulars.

With Nina sleeping with the enemy, Jimmy having alienated his one ally in the resistance by refusing to leave France when he’s told to and Vincent in the hands of the SS – it’s difficult to see how any of this is going to end well.

By this point the weekly grind of the production schedule must have been exhausting. Splitting things off into different plot threads makes sense. It also enables the writers to make good use of their magnificent range of guest actors.

Although Lynch, Barkworth and Hayman are more than capable of carrying things on their own, adding Robert Hardy, Philip Madoc, George Sewell and many others makes this series an actor-spotters treasure house.

If you’re reading this, I suspect you’re more than familiar with the pleasure of seeing a familiar actor pop up when you weren’t expecting them. This series is full of such moments, even down to the spit-and-a-cough parts.

Case in point – episodes 15 and 16, Little Man, Big Gun. Manhunt’s first official two parter, although earlier on Only The Dead Survive and What Did You Do In The War, Daddy? formed a self-contained storyline within the overall narrative.

The experiment worked then – god, how it worked – and it obviously gave them the confidence to try another longer story because here the plot really has room to breathe.

This is a Nina showcase, pretty much. The Forties answer to Amy Winehouse (similar looks, similar mode of behaviour) continues to be consistently inconsistent.

One week she’s a mewling ball of tears, the next, icy cold reserve. The next week again she’ll be taking the difficult decisions and showing steel beneath the exterior, after that she’s making herself the centre of attention and usurping plotlines in a manner which makes you wish she’d just get the hell out of the series and let everybody else get on with it.

It’s a shame because none of this is Cyd Hayman’s fault – she’s never less than rock solid in every episode but it’s obvious that the writers don’t know what to do with the character.

I wonder if it’s the result of the series getting unexpectedly extended? A victim of its own success, suddenly having to stretch to 26 episodes at short notice must have set everyone on the back foot.

This two parter is written by Vincent Tilsley – previously responsible for With A Sort of Love. Tilsley wrote the wonderfully strange version of Sweeney Todd from Mystery and Imagination (out shortly on DVD, and worth it for this episode alone, believe me).

Tilsley also turned in two episodes of The Prisoner (The Chimes of Big Ben and Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling) amongst many other gems and he obviously has a flair for getting under the skin of his characters – he loves to put ‘em in an enclosed space, turn them loose on each other and see what happens.

So it proves here as with the exception of a couple of stock heavy soldier types, Gratz’s boss and a blisteringly insane SS Officer character, the only people in this are Cyd Hayman, Robert Hardy and… drum roll please… Ian McCulloch.

I last saw Mac poking someone’s eye out in a series stealing cameo on Colditz, a couple of years before, he was in this, as daring British Communications Officer Captain David Mainwaring, fresh from a swim in the English Channel. If only they’d given him a different surname.

Although, having that said, Arthur Lowe might have made a better fist of the situation than Mac’s character does. Before the first part’s music has even faded, Gratz has nabbed his prey and it looks like we’re in for another reprise of his famed interrogation technique, only with Mainwaring instead of Nina.

Incidentally, at this point Gratz makes reference to Mainwaring “spending a night under the English Channel” – followers of Ian McCulloch’s work will know this is not a situation he’s unfamiliar with.

Events soon shift to a charming domestic scene between Nina and Gratz which demonstrates Nina’s unique ability to turn the simple act of making of a cup of tea into a full-scale cinemascope shouting match, then turn on a sixpence into Little Miss Compliant. Woman’s a suitable case for treatment, I’m telling you.

Then again, so is Mainwaring. Somehow Gratz manages to break him down within minutes and turn him into a willing conspirator in a plot so twisted, so arcane that I couldn’t even tell you the details.

Nina’s involved though, as are her uniquely Rose Tyler abilities to make evewy man she meets faw in wuv wiv her has him as putty in her paws. Within an hour of meeting, they’re in bed together. All part of Gratz’s plan, but what that plan actually is… I have no idea. Not one clue.

Before too much longer, Mac has promised to take Nina back to England with him (wherein she’ll presumably be put on show in a cage somewhere). Shortly after that, the loony SS officer attempts to persuade Gratz to join an exciting new cult of genetically perfect supermen – sorry, but I’m not buying it – Robert Hardy’s wearing specs for a start so there’s an obvious genetic weakness right there.

Like Peter Jeffrey as the leader of a flotilla of gorgeous specimens in Adam Adamant Lives! – Beauty is an Ugly Word – there’s a significant discrepancy between what’s being said and what’s on screen. But then, our loony is way off the chart anyway, to the point where even Gratz has to admit to being in the presence of a brain more twisted than his.

Before you know it, Gratz – while actually under house arrest – manages to twist things around so that Mac has to shoot Nina. An altruistic act, which he actually tries to do. Only he’s using an empty gun, thanks to Gratz being several steps ahead as usual.

In an ugly, nasty scuffle, it falls to Nina to make her choice between her two potential “saviours”, and it’s Mac who falls, with a knife in his back. Nina has made her choice, but it comes with a price – thanks to some adroit maneuvering from Gratz, she now can’t even leave the house without being watched and is more of a prisoner than ever.

I expected the animated prison bars to come crashing in on a zoom of her face at the end of the episode.

“But what of Jimmy?” I hear you cry. Glad you asked. He has problems of his own as he ends up (as seemingly, everyone does) back in the orbit of Planet Adelaide. Having resolved on Vincent’s behalf to try and rescue Nina (and boy, does that girl need rescuing – they tried to make her go to England, but she said no, no, no), he’s back with her little band of strolling vagabonds. But not for long, as here comes another heavy-hitter to join the cast. Can it be Tony Beckley?

Yes, it can. Looking like death warmed up as usual (shame Mac wasn’t still in the cast, he’s good with Zombies), his character of Hochler is a tough nut to crack. Within seconds of meeting him Jimmy’s been arrested for a lack of identification papers (despite a bravura attempt by Adelaide to pass him off as her cousin).

Set to work in a local factory Jimmy soon realises that there’s research afoot and with an unerring eye for the safe route and the safety of those around him soon manages to get several of his colleagues massacred. Hochler’s way of dealing with a disturbance is to gun ‘em down – not something Jimmy had counted on, and something which immediately makes him target no.1 for the resistance.

I can’t honestly blame them, especially when Hochler appears to take a shine to Jimmy and takes him on board as ship’s cook and porcupine. Not something guaranteed to make our boy popular with his colleagues, so he’s dispatched to accommodation off-site.

Thankfully, Jimmy manages to make good on his suspicions, as he discovers that there’s a brand new type of jet engine being created from a special type of metal – something which could win the war for Germany.

It’s this news that keeps him alive as it’s far too important for the allies not to be told. As man on the spot, presumably it’s only his super-specialist RAF knowledge that’s keeping him alive – reluctantly the resistance bend their efforts to helping him get the knowledge out – and more importantly for what’s to come, a sample of the metal as well.

As is the way of Manhunt, more innocents are destroyed in Jimmy’s wake as his housemate – a Polish chap with but one ambition, to get back home on his bike no matter how long it takes – suddenly finds himself reaching Poland by rather more direct means.

Hochler is the nearest thing to an all-out villain that Manhunt has, and what happens to this simple, innocent little man – while understated – is horrible. All the information you need to work out his eventual fate is given to you. It’s only when you connect the dots that you realise how nasty a character Hochler is.

Meanwhile, back in Ninaworld (it’s a horrible place to visit, and you certainly don’t want to live there), an attempt is made to put Nina in touch with Jimmy via Adelaide.

Unfortunately it all goes horribly, spectacularly wrong – more deaths including an atrocity in a church, and the girls end up in the hands of an interrogation squad in another one of Manhunt’s tight little closed-room episodes, “Confessional”.  Or do they?

This is Maggie Fitzgibbon’s finest hour to date. Even under interrogation she refuses to crack, defiant to the bitter end as the shadowy menacing figure of Anton – Brian Cox, here we go again – attempts to break her by more direct means than those employed by Gratz. She’s superb.

There’s a moment midway through the episode where you can see on her face that she realises just where her over-confident playing both ends against the middle has got her. You also see that she’s not going to let that stop her. She’s going to get out of this, one way or another. And she’s not going to change her ways either.

Unsurprisingly, when Nina’s put in the chair she instantly betrays Adelaide (to be fair, there’s a blowtorch being waved in her face, and given that her hair is a lacquer sculpture that should have a fire brigade standing by at all times it’s no wonder she freaks instantly).

Astonishingly though, this does not immediately provoke a kicking for Nina – instead she brings out the mother hen in Adelaide. What is it with this girl? And can we bottle it? We’d make a fortune.

It’s somewhere around about this point that Herr Cox reveals himself to be Msieur Cox – he’s working for the resistance and this has been one of leader Allard’s little set pieces to test the strength of his subjects.

Previous set pieces have involved little Nerys Hughes being beaten to within an inch of her life – it’s a dangerous job, working for George Sewell. Since we already know that Nina will buckle like a belt at the merest provocation, we’re left wondering just what the point of the episode is, but it does introduce Cox and adds depth to Adelaide that reveals just how strong she is behind the Lili Von Schtup-isms.

It’s shortly after this that Nina decides it’s time to take several leaves out of Gratz’s book.

Degrade and Conquer shows that while she’s learnt at the feet of the master, she’s got a long way to go. There are scenes in this where Nina places an innocent young German soldier in compromising circumstances and I’m in no way convinced.

Once again her character switches from gibbering maniac to ice-cold manipulator and it jars far too much. I don’t for one minute think that Nina’s capable of carrying out her plan. Sure enough, she isn’t. Before the episode’s out, it all collapses around her and there she goes – on the run again, only this time there’s no-one to pick her up when she falls.

Gratz meanwhile, suffers the ultimate indignity for a man of his temperament, as one of his twisted schemes goes seriously awry.

Attempting to make a young woman crack by denying her even the most basic of dignities – no washing facilities, no bathroom, forced to live in her own filth for weeks on end while within sight of someone who enjoys every possible luxury – he’s stunned when the tables are turned, the young woman emerges the victor and comprehensively trounces him at his own game. The experience seems to prove too much for him, and he’s left close to snapping.

Someone’s missing. Where has Vincent gone? Ah, here he is. After a four episode break Peter Barkworth returns – and Philip Madoc’s got him.

It’s a joy to have Barkworth back – without him, the series has seemed a little unbalanced, losing focus slightly as it sets up the three parallel storylines. Focus is definitely regained here as the plot shifts to accommodate him and eventually brings him back into contact with the others. But first, he has to undergo everything the SS can throw at him. Which is an awful lot.

When we first see him, he’s in tatters, blood streaming from his hands and about to be executed, but it’s all a bluff to break him. Needless to say, it’s merely the first stage in an ongoing cat and mouse game between a remarkably Welsh sounding German and a very English sounding Frenchman.

Another one of Vincent’s old mates turns up too. A lot of this one is devoted to a two-hander between Vincent and his friend, Egon.

Unfortunately, while Barkworth is his usual scintillating self, James Maxwell’s performance lacks an essential spark. These scenes should fly. They merely saunter along, taking in occasional points of interest along the way, and that’s a shame. Maxwell seems terribly under rehearsed somehow. Another few takes could have saved it, but it’s not to be.

James Maxwell’s spirit haunts the Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, y’know. Yes, it does. “Most Haunted” says so. Are you going to argue with Yvette Fielding?

Vincent has previously confessed to being terrified of the prospect of torture – this episode reveals that he is far, far stronger than he thinks he is. He not only endures everything, he emerges the other side somehow tempered.

The old, nervous, twitchy Vincent disappears from here on in, to be replaced by a quiet, dignified, almost stately figure in a very very natty suit. From this point in he even wields a machine gun with elan, something the old man would never do.

He also takes an active part in planning events, in driving things forward. No longer the victim, he’s won more of a victory than I think he realises. He manages to outsmart The Madoc for a start. At least, he seems to. I still think there’s more to this particular plot. I don’t think Lutzig’s done with Vincent yet but for now, Vincent heads back for a reunion with Jimmy.

Which brings me to Intent To Steal. Up until the series’ release on DVD, this was the only episode I’d seen and it left me horribly confused. I now realise that it’s massively uncharacteristic of the series as a whole. It’s effectively one huge experiment, for reasons unknown.

I can’t work out if it’s a budgetary thing, an artistic thing or merely the practicalities of getting the whole episode down in a normal production schedule, but the whole episode… is silent. Not one word of dialogue uttered from first credit to final caption.

Given that one of Manhunt’s most obvious characteristics is a refusal on the part of almost everyone involved to shut up, this is remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is that the production values on this are huge. Money’s been hurled at this like nobody’s business.

Reams of location footage. Acres of extras. Massive explosions, rounds of ammunition being discharged in all directions. No wonder I thought it was an action adventure series in the ITC mould. It’s totally misleading. It’s also quite superb.

The culmination of the Jimmy-and-the-Jet-Engine subplot, it’s a fifty minute heist caper, as Barkworth, Lynch, Fitzgibbon, Cox and Sewell plus several dozen resistance fighters combine to attempt to steal a sample of secret metal from the factory.

Not everyone’s going to walk away from this one and so it proves. George Sewell’s Allard is maimed by a guard dog (well, I say maimed – it’s traditional in British drama for savage dogs to be loveable old wuffers with a few growling noises dubbed on and Manhunt doesn’t buck the trend), before buying it in the big end-of-episode explosion.

The same explosion also does for Brian Cox’s character – Anton’s back broken on a pile of rubble, it’s an undignified way for one of the series’ strongest characters to go out – but perfectly in keeping with the scuffling, unglamorous way this particular war is being conducted.

By the time the credits roll everyone on the resistance side is dead, apart from Jimmy and Vincent. I may be reading far too much into this, but there’s a very strong sense of the ho-yay in this one as well as there are several moments when the boys appear to be about to steal a kiss with each other in the midst of the mayhem.

At the end of the episode, there they sit – crouched in the rubble and corpses. They’ve achieved their aim of stealing a sample of the metal. But is the cost too high?

Indeed, the strain is telling on all of our series regulars by this point. Jimmy and Vincent sit hand in hand in no man’s land. Gratz shows dangerous signs of insanity.

Nina’s out there, live without a safety net. Allard and Anton are dead. Only Adelaide looks like getting out of this alive, and she’s a wild card anyway. Goodness knows who she’s going to side with.

Lutzig? Well, he’s not finished yet, not by a long way, but he’s in better shape than any of the rest of them.

As someone once said, who will survive, and what will be left of them?

The final four episodes await.

Walter Dunlop

Read Part One of the complete Manhunt DVD review

Read Part Two of the complete Manhunt DVD review

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