Strike is a rather jolly good three-hour, BBC adaptation of J.K. Rowling (under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith) as Cormoran Strike – imagine Charlie Brooker was a divorced, alcoholic detective with the voice and mannerisms of Kenneth Branagh.
After the eponymous hero has his leg blown off while serving in the military police in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Strike returns to London to set up shop as a broke and broken Private Investigator.
While there are many well-trodden tropes, the post-war PTSD and associated anger and insomnia, the quasi-divorce, the alcohol and lots of moping, writer Ben Richards (Spooks, Fortitude) and director Michael Keillor (Silk, Line of Duty) have performed miracles by nine times out of ten showing, not telling a complex murder mystery.
Save for a few scenes in the slightly saggy second episode, the script rarely became too ‘expositionary’, while when it did, actors Tom Burke (as Cormoran Strike) and his new temp secretary Holliday Grainger’s (as Robin Ellacott) infectious charisma, on-screen chemistry and warmth made it work.
Yes, you read that right. Warmth. Despite Strike cutting a somewhat lonesome figure, being a total and utter mumblefuck and his penchant for leaving his Denmark Street office/slum to wander around Soho at three o’clock in the morning (presumably looking for his alter ego, Charlie Brooker’s ex – Konnie Huq and a kebab,) his warmth and likeability lit up the screen.
Being a likeable, grumpy detective is a difficult balance to ‘strike’ and a hard performance to pull off. One foot either side and you fail.
Kenneth Branagh’s bleak, Scandinavian minimalist Wallander managed this tightrope balance act brilliantly and Tom Burke and Branagh seem to come from the same acting gene pool. I’ve never seen Burke’s work before, but he’s the spit of Branagh.
Check it out now, funk soul Branagahs:
How the two have never been cast as father and son, or brothers, is beyond me. If they don’t actually share DNA, then Burke owes every acting technique in his arsenal – voice, tone, intonation, delivery and gait – to the Northern Irishman.
Maybe I’ll write a Soho-Malmö skipping mashup where I reveal Strike is not the son of an English rock star but Kurt Wallander’s long lost lovechild.
Idris Elba’s John Luther had loveable grumpiness in droves, but from the second Strike was coupled with the wonderful Holliday Grainger’s secretary Robin in an almost homicidal meet-cute – the screen caught fire.
As for the story – well I’m not going to delve into the investigation of supermodel Lula Landry’s (Elarica Johnson – above, right) suspicious death too much – either you’ve seen the show already or are about to watch it – either way, you don’t want to read a rehash of events and don’t want to write one! I leave that to IGN and Slashfilm.
While I never did work out one key puzzling plot-point (unless it was just a theme, it was mentioned, just not explained) – why on earth this was called The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first (of three) of Rowling’s Strike novels is a clever, well-executed, twisty, murder mystery, full of surprising revelations… if a little lacking in depth and suspense.
That said, though I enjoyed the hell out of Strike, I’d take the John Luther / Alice Morgan combo any day of the week.
The suspense eventually did show up in time for the big reveal. If you’re not on the edge of your seat for the finalé and your heart doesn’t melt during the gift-giving denouement, you ain’t got no soul!
The successful Richards/Keillor partnership take a back seat as Tom Edge takes over writing duties and Kieron Hawkes calls the shots for the second story in the series The Silkworm which begins tonight, Sunday 10th September on BBC One at 9pm.