Sean Bean plays against type beautifully as Father Michael Kerrigan, a sad, softly spoken Catholic priest haunted by flashbacks to his childhood. Bean is known for action roles, but here is all gentleness and compassion as a man who, for instance, knows the strain a first communion service and its outfits can put on parishioners: “People are taking on years of debt for a ceremony lasting less than an hour,” he sighs.
One of those people is Christina Fitzsimmons (Anna Friel), the other focus of the drama, a skint single mother who is losing her bearings. In a terrific scene she is late for her job at a betting shop and ends up having a full-on fist-fight with her female boss – while a gambler ignores them and plugs away at his fruit machine.
It’s the start of a desperate spiral for Christina, all deftly drawn by the best writer around for this kind of thing – Jimmy McGovern.
But it was the scene of murderous depravity on 9 July 1996 when Lin Russell and her daughters Megan (six) and Josie (nine) were tied up and beaten by a man with a hammer. Megan and her mother died, while Josie survived. She’s since established a successful adult life as an artist after being brought up by her father, Shaun.
A year later a local man, heroin addict and petty criminal Michael Stone, was tried and jailed for life after being convicted of the killings and of Josie’s attempted murder.
This documentary series brings together experts with backgrounds in forensic science, policing, law and criminology to re-examine the controversial case against Stone, who maintains his innocence.
Boyish pranks and blokey rivalry are the mainstays as Marcus Brigstocke and Alexis Conran (2016 Celebrity MasterChef winner!) set out on a series of adventures in which Alexis tries to convince Marcus of the worth of hi-tech gadgetry. Whether they’re racing up and down mountains or trying to live off-grid, there’s a feel of Top Gear stunts, with Alexis taking the exuberant Richard Hammond role and Marcus the lugubrious James May. There is no Clarkson, thankfully.
There’s a nice balance between hilarity when Marcus punctures Alexis’s excitement over a ludicrous bit of kit, and delight when the tech actually achieves something amazing (a torch that can light fires!).
Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class restored some rude health to Marvel’s flagging mutant franchise in 2011. A prequel set in the groovy 1960s and featuring younger versions of established characters (James McAvoy as Professor X, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as blue-hued shape-shifter Mystique), it rejuvenated audience interest virtually overnight.
Having kicked the whole X-Men series off, director Bryan Singer makes a triumphant return, upping the ante with an ambitious time-spanning tale that puts the original stars – Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman – together with their younger counterparts. A grizzled Wolverine (Jackman) is sent back to 1973 by old sparring partners Professor X (Stewart) and Magneto (McKellen) to save the future from mechanoid mutant killers called Sentinels.
Trouble is, that means convincing McAvoy’s drug-addled (and now powerless) Xavier to bury the hatchet with frenemy Magneto, who’s languishing in a vault beneath the Pentagon. Cue a terrific Mission: Impossible-style rescue that introduces mutant speedster Quicksilver (Evan Peters).
Indeed, there are plenty of memorable action sequences (not least the climax as past and future X-Men battle to avoid annihilation) though the moment when the two Xaviers have a quiet tête-à-tête is just as powerful. In the end, it’s the compelling cast that makes the movie more than just a noisy action-fest: McAvoy and Fassbender are at their charismatic best; Lawrence demonstrates that blue is not the warmest colour; and Jackman is more mentor than mauler.
Plaudits should go to Singer for making the franchise fit for purpose, and his rip-roaring recalibration of past and current X-teams should provide these characters with a bright new future.
Shadow of Truth
Move aside, Making a Murderer, there’s a new true crime docuseries in town. Specifically, a small town in Israel’s Golden Heights where schoolgirl Tair Rada was brutally murdered by a Ukrainian immigrant. Or so it seems…