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Grace review: John Simm drama proves nail-biting watch – and will traumatise future grooms

After playing the straight man in Life on Mars, John Simm gets a turn playing the unorthodox copper in ITV's Grace.

Grace
3.0 out of 5 star rating

If you’re planning a debauched stag-night for later in the year, you might want to look away now.

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Suffice to say that ITV’s new crime drama Grace may well leave future grooms traumatised. Episode one, based on the first of Peter James’ bestselling Roy Grace novels, goes far beyond the usual horrors of beer chugs and falling face-down on Wetherspoons carpets.

It would be a spoiler to say exactly how and in what manner viewers will be traumatised, but those who’ve read the books will know exactly which scenes I mean. No doubt they also felt compelled to stick their head out the window for a long gasp of fresh air, as I did after watching the episode.

The new drama series, like the books, follows Brighton-based police detective DS Roy Grace, a methodical man whose wife went missing some years ago and remains unfound, despite his best efforts.

I’ve not read the Roy Grace book series, so it would be difficult to comment on how well John Simm might measure up to the detective hero of readers’ imaginings (an near-impossible feat anyway, for any actor playing a beloved fictional character). 

Simm is probably best known for his work on Life on Mars, the surreal ‘odd couple’ crime drama in which he played Sam Tyler, a modern, by-the-book officer who teams up with Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), a 1970s copper with unorthodox (and mostly violent) methods. In Grace, however, it’s Simm who takes on the role of the unorthodox detective – although instead of punches and kicks, he opts for spookier routes to the truth.

He’s a complex character by any means, but when you haven’t read the books and you’re meeting him for the first time, it can be difficult to get a handle on him. There were aspects of his personality and his professional drive that felt confused or brushed over during this first episode.

When he first appears on-screen, he’s in court defending a controversial decision to employ a medium (the Ouija board, spirit guide kind) to find a missing person. He won’t back down and the papers get hold of the story, damaging the police force’s reputation. However, we’re not given a real reason why he’s so unapologetic about his strange methods until much later, and by then it doesn’t feel like enough. Nor did I fully grasp the nature of his relationship with one of the suspects, something that I imagine would have been more clear in the books. 

The show’s sensible, ‘Sam Tyler’ role is filled by DS Glenn Branson (Richie Campbell), a happily married father and Grace’s former protégée. When Grace is assigned desk duty following the public fall-out of the court incident, charismatic Branson manages to rope his old boss into a consulting role on a fast-moving, missing person case.

Grace
John Simm as DS Roy Grace and Alisha Bailey as Ashley in Grace (ITV)
ITV

A local property developer and groom-to-be, Michael, has disappeared on the night of his rowdy stag party. The rest of his groomsmen (bar the best man) were all involved in a fatal car accident, but our groom seems to have vanished into thin air, leaving behind his distraught and mysterious fiancée, Ashley. Both Grace and Branson take a shine to her, and Grace in particular – he watches her constantly. 

Any character development issues aside, the episode proves a nail-biting watch. Michael is a rich man, and there’s the suggestion that he could have just taken off – but the viewer soon learns that something far more sinister is at play, and the clock is ticking…

Grace will premiere on ITV on Sunday 14th March at 8pm. If you want to start reading Peter James’ Roy Grace series, you can buy the first instalment Dead Simple and the second novel Looking Good Dead on Amazon. You can browse the whole series here.

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Take a look at the rest of our Drama coverage, or check out what else is on with our TV guide.