ENTERTAINMENT

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on last night's television: The bloodthirsty murderer and a real case of poetic justice


The murders in Pembrokeshire

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Mark Kermode's Secrets of the Cinema: British Comedy

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One of the many animal hates for an editor I edited long ago was the phrase "brutal murder".

"All murders are brutal," he growled at guilty reporters, suggesting that he might have to prove it next time.

The cliché surfaced in a number of newspaper clippings The murders in Pembrokeshire (ITV) based on the police investigation into which serial killer John Cooper was trapped. But no crime deserves the word "brutal" more than Cooper's.

Screenwriter Nick Stevens has not hidden its wickedness or overlaid the shoddy glamor that obscures some of the violence in the other real-life drama, BBC1's The Serpent.

Luke Evans infused the police officer in charge of the investigation with a deep humanity and a touch of the poet

Luke Evans infused the police officer responsible for the investigation with a deep humanity and a touch of the poet

A middle-aged couple, Richard and Helen Thomas, were blown up at close range with a shotgun in 1985 before their home was burned down with their bodies inside. Three years later, two other married victims, Peter and Gwenda Dixon, were also shot. Their bodies were dumped on the Pembrokeshire coastal path. In both cases, bloodlust as well as robbery seemed to be the motive.

To make up for the sheer horror of the murders, Luke Evans infused the investigative officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilkins, with a deep humanity and a touch of the poet.

Recently divorced, Wilkins made efforts to stay close to his teenage children. We felt that he had spent too little time with his wife and young family, and now, too late, he tried to make amends.

He also drank too much. He was never at home without a glass of wine and took a hip flask to work.

But stray details revealed a reflective side, like the telescope in his apartment that looked out over the Irish Sea.

Tragic secret of the week:

Detectives botched their probe into the suicide in India of Jiah Khan, 25, a London-raised film star from Mumbai. Death in Bollywood (BBC2) began by exposing what the police were missing. Part two of that worrying report will air tonight.

And when he linked an unsolved rape from decades ago to Cooper, he told his team how it fitted into the investigation: the murders were the building blocks of the case, the sexual assault was the mortar that brought them together.

Most TV detectives won't give you such images. Imagine the look of contempt on DCI Vera's face when she comes out super with it.

So far we haven't seen much of Cooper, played by Keith Allen (Lily's father). The killer is a bullying little man who tries to find his way out of jail, where he is serving 16 years for armed robbery.

According to Mark Kermode's arduous and ham-fisted theories, the fact that Cooper is a short man in every way – dejected, unhappy, physically weed but delusional – makes him the archetypal British comic book hero.

The waffling film critic argued repeatedly in his Secrets of the Cinema: British Comedy (BBC4) that all comedies boil down to it, from Charlie Chaplin and Norman Wisdom to the unfortunate suicide bombers in Chris Morris' terrorism farce Four Lions.

Oh, and Paddington too, apparently. He's a "little man," says Mr. Movies.

Mark sat in an old three-part suite with a generous glass of whiskey on the table in front of him, shuffling movie clips like a sharp card and turning them over so quickly that the screen was just blurry.

Most of the time the sound was muted so it could explain to us why we should (or shouldn't) find each scene funny.

Here he can be seen in nude scenes in Calendar Girls and The Full Monty: "So it's interesting that two of the most popular comedies of the past 25 years see very different characters who lose social convention by taking off their clothes."

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