London, summertime, and a serial murderer is at large, killing his victims in brutal ways and leaving a silver spoon in the mouths as his calling card. What links the victims? Detective Superintendent Red Metcalfe (Ken Stott) assembles a top team and attempts to halt the bloodshed as he simultaneously tries to keep the ghosts in his past from submerging his investigation.
Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and co-adapted to screenplay by Boris Starling (from his own novel) and Lizzie Mickery, Messiah is formed in two parts. Firstly is The First Killings, then The Reckoning. Originally shown over two nights on BBC in 2001, Starling's source proves to be excellently unnerving stuff that translates very well to the screen. The comparisons with David Fincher's Se7en were inevitable, though a touch lazy and unfair given the different worlds they operate in, both cinematically as budgets, and as setting and protagonists portrayals.
Lawrence's film has so much going for it to make it an essential viewing for fans of serial killer based thrillers. It has all the key elements in place. The murders are most distressing, with us often having to witness the aftermath of the crimes and thus having to fill in the blanks (urgh). The mystery element is constantly strong, with the makers slowly dripping in clues as to the killer's motives, and then for the second half it becomes a race against time before the genuinely surprising reveal and denouement. The acting is first rate, with Stott (playing an interesting and unique hero), Jamie Draven and Michelle Forbes particularly impressive in tricky roles.
The investigative group dynamic is a troubled one, which adds spice to the investigation. Metcalfe has a stormy past that keeps rearing its head to affect his detecting, while his marriage to deaf Susan (Forbes) is coming increasingly under pressure, more so the deeper he gets into the case. DI Duncan Warren (Neil Dudgeon) has a gambling problem, at war with his ex-wife and fighting a losing battle to get quality time with his estranged son, and young pups D.S. Clifton (Draven) and D.S. Beauchamp (Frances Grey) have taken an inappropriate liking to each other. Into the mix is the gutter press and Art Malik's Boss Emerson is stomping around like a bear with a sore head.
Messiah is not without faults, one of the decisions taken by the killer just beggars belief, while there is one leap of faith (hrr hrr hrr) required to buy into the meticulous aspect of said killer's ultimate goal. But this is great skin itching stuff, a prestigious production that shows the better side of the BBC as Grand Guignol and British drama fuse together handsomely. 9/10
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