Rating 2½

Written by David Pirie

Directed by Catherine Morshead

Starring Robbie Coltrane (DI Douglas Hain), Amanda Hale (Carol Walsh), Bel Powley (Carrie Walsh), Lucy Cohu (Sally Walsh), Sharon Small (Dr Laura Maitland), Nicholas Gleaves (Oliver), Lorraine Ashbourne (Rachel), David Westhead (Tony Phillips), Andrew Tiernan (Whitaker), Steve Robertson (Andrew McGrath), Mali Harries (DC Hart), David Gyasi (Will), Jason Watkins (Ed Croom) and Michael Bertenshaw (Steve Tobias)

13-year-old Carrie Walsh discovers the body of her brutally raped and murdered mother Lucy, a prostitute, and disturbs an intruder in the house, only narrowly escaping with her own life. The case is assigned to the cynical and weary DI Douglas Hain, who immediately comes into conflict with Dr Laura Maitland, a child psychologist who is brought in to protect and counsel Carrie. However, Hain is much more intimately involved than he lets anyone know, ultimately leading to him being taken off the case and retired early from the police force. The murder remains unsolved and fourteen years later Carrie, now Carol, turns up on Hain’s doorstep, still looking for closure.


‘Murderland’ refers to a psychological state in which a child becomes obsessed by a crime, something dealt with by James Elroy in his autobiographical novel ‘My Dark Places’, which deals with the murder of his mother when he was 10-years-old, his efforts to solve the case, and how that terrible event has shaped his life since. This three-part television mini-series was written by David Pirie, in part based on an idea he and Robbie Coltrane had discussed some years earlier, inspired by their shared interest in film noir. Pirie is a former film critic whose other work includes ‘The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle’ and well-received adaptations of ‘The Woman in White’ and ‘The Wyvern Mystery’, the latter starring Naomi Watts, shortly before the start of her ascent in Hollywood.

In the first episode (“Carrie’s Story”) the events immediately leading up to the murder and its aftermath are seen through the eyes of 13-year-old Carrie Walsh. The second episode, “Hain’s Story”, deals with those same events, now seen through the eyes of Douglas Hain. The third episode (“Carol’s Story”) is set mainly in the present as Walsh and Hain are reunited and they slowly piece back together the evidence and their fragmented memories of what happened.

The opening episode is excellent, thanks in no small part to a superb performance by Bel Powley, who perfectly captures the mixture of wide-eyed innocence, sense of fear and incomprehension and the growing psychological obsession. The second part is perhaps hampered by a feeling of déjà vu because the story retraces its steps over old ground, but it establishes Hain’s hidden involvement in the life of the murder victim. Sadly, though, the whole thing falls apart in part three. It feels tissue-thin and the revelations are too easily stumbled upon. There is no longer any sharpness to the characters and there is a real lack of any sense that Carol is so obsessed by the murder of her mother that her whole life is put on hold and consumed by it. I thought the performance by Amanda Hale was a little too flat and suppressed, although clearly this is how we are invited to imagine the events of Carol’s life have left her – unable to find closure and move on.

Robbie Coltrane is always worth watching, but the excellent Sharon Small is wasted in a role that ultimately doesn’t amount to very much. The first episode gives us some idea how good the whole thing might have been, but sadly it does rather fizzle out by the end.

Review posted 15 November 2009


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