A refreshingly unadorned and believable pair of detectives are at the heart of ITV’s promising new crime drama Unforgotten

Ben Dowell is rather taken with this gripping new police procedural which, in Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar's coppers, at last introduces us to a fairly normal set of lead detectives…

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A long forgotten disappearance of a youngster, a newly found body, a group of disparate individuals from all walks of life who are each under suspicion. A dodgy-seeming politician. And a central pair of detectives determined to get to the truth…

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Yes, if the premise of Unforgotten sounds a bit like Scandi Noir classic The Killing, then I probably wouldn’t complain too much if I were you. The Killing was a brilliant series… and Unforgotten? Well, I think this is pretty good too.

What I like most about it after one episode is the central pairing of Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar as DCI Cassie Stuart and DCI Sunil “Sunny” Khan.

Refreshingly, they are detectives who seem like recognisably normal people living relatively normal lives. You get a sense with Walker’s Cassie especially that her life is just a bit dull – which is perhaps why she seizes on this missing person/murder case with such relish.

They are a pair who don’t have the tics, the loneliness the manic depression which seem to afflict many of our leading screen detectives, which makes them rather original and refreshing.

As for Chris Lang’s script, the story concerns the disappearance of a young man called Jimmy found in the basement of a derelict London house.

The echoes (not disguised by the production crew at the press screening) of real-life cases of historic abuse are probably obvious, but more of that later. 

So who did it? (I don’t know by the way, so please read on).

Trevor Eve’s Sir Phillip Cross seems an obvious candidate. The Government’s new entrepreneur Tsar clearly has secrets in his closet, a rough and ready chancer who probably cut corners on his way to the top.

And then there is Bernard Hill’s Father Robert Greaves, a vicar and ascetic who can’t be bothered to take his wife on a holiday but whose constant do-gooding suggests he is hiding at least one or two guilty secrets. These two give excellent, nuanced performances.

I’m probably most taken with Tom Courtenay’s Eric Slater, though; he’s the one who is obsessively attendant upon his ailing wife and there is a creepiness and darkness to his character which only an actor of Courtenay’s stature can tease out with such subtlety and sleight of hand. He gives away just enough.

This is pretty smart drama which approaches the idea of historic cases with thought. We are presented with a modern day world of relative racial harmony and diversity (epitomised by Ruth Sheen’s Lizzie Wilton and her local youth football team). But there is a powerful sense that the murky world of 1976 we are looking back on was anything but the rainbow nation of tolerance and kindness we like to think we now live in. Jimmy, we do not need to stress, was a mixed race young man.

In fact I would say that while this is on the face of it a police procedural it is a show that is actually examining what makes us – and made us – tick as a nation. And for that I commend its ambition.

But the key question is this: will you be looking forward to spending the next five weeks in the company of Walker and Bhaskar? I think I will. They’re an unusually unadorned and believable set of ‘tecs investigating this cold case, and I’m warming to them already…

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Unforgotten is on ITV on Thursdays at 9pm