Yesterday I shared my review from a couple of years ago, of the first of Ann Cleeve’s Two Rivers series of books, called The Long Call. I reposted it because it has just been adapted as a TV series set in North Devon where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet. I mentioned that I had very much enjoyed the book, and the second in the series, but found the main characters a little flat. That is me being super-critical because as ever with Ann, the books are beautifully written, intriguing plots, wonderful evocation of scenery, and an interesting variety of characters. The lead detective and ‘hero’ is Matthew Venn, who has returned to his native Devon and lives with his husband Jonathan. He grew up not far away in a strict religious community which he broke away from, for a number of reasons, but also because he is gay and the community believes it’s a sin.
I was really looking forward to seeing The Long Call on TV, as her other series of books have been fabulously translated onto the screen, and I especially love Shetland which coincidentally is also running a news series on BBC. I knew the Devon scenery would be lush and a star of the drama, and indeed it was, and I thought the intriguing mystery would be… well, intriguing! And it was. However what really stunned me was the quality of the acting, every single person on the screen was brilliant, and Matthew Venn leapt off the screen in a way he hadn’t from the book. The actor playing Matthew is Ben Aldridge who I’d never heard of before. He has great subtlety and expression – not just facial expression but how he stands, how he moves, and despite Matthew being quite repressed because of his upbringing and life experiences, Ben is able to express that in a quiet but forceful way. The other actors playing the officers in his team are maybe not quite as realistic – in my opinion, they don’t quite hit the spot somehow, but I hope there will be a further series, in which case I am sure they will gel perfectly.
It’s quite a complex plot involving an arts centre by the river run by Matthew’s husband Jonathan, and the actual religious community where Matthew grew up. As it was when he lived there, the leader of the community is Dennis Stephenson played by Martin Shaw; what a towering performance! I remember Shaw from when he was Doyle in Bodie and Doyle, and since then I’ve always found him a little hammy, however, that was perfect for the rôle and he was incredible. I don’t want to give anything away, but from the moment we meet him, we want him to be guilty, even if he isn’t! But is he? Or isn’t he? He’s a vile and obnoxious man, but has he done anything illegal? He certainly terrifies his poor wife played by an unrecognizable Anita Dobson. Anyone who only remembers her as Angie Watts in EastEnders will be absolutely stunned by her performance. What a supremely talented actress, and I have only just learned, is married to Brian May from Queen. The other stand-out performance is from Sarah Gordy as a seemingly vulnerable young woman – I won’t say any more about her character because in many ways it’s key to the mystery Matthew eventually unpicks. Every actor in the series is wonderful, and they are well known from other TV series and films, Juliet Stevens, Neil Morrissey, Dylan Edwards, Pearl MacKie, Amit Shah and Alan Williams.
As I mentioned, I hope the second book in the series, The Heron’s Cry, becomes the next in the series, with the same actors as the main characters, and I also hope Ann writes some more in the series!