The week in TV: Spiral; Motherland; The Name of the Rose and more – review

The return of gritty Paris cop drama Spiral is a deliciously disturbing treat, while sitcom Motherland offers its own terrors

Spiral (BBC Four) | iPlayer

Motherland (BBC Two) | iPlayer

The Name of the Rose (BBC Two) | iPlayer

The Capture (BBC One) | iPlayer

Zomboat! (ITV2) | ITV Hub

Finally my Saturday nights have something worth watching once more, in the shape of the seventh (don’t really know why the italics: it’s richly deserved) series of Spiral, the supremely classy Canal+/BBC Four, deep, dirty thriller set firmly in the French language.

We even got to see, for all of, ooh, eight minutes or so, the Paris of filmic memory: the boulevards and baguettes and sexy little canals. More than nice, but this isn’t what this is at all about: too soon we are plunged into the filthier arrondissements, the ones sprawling darkly beyond the peripherique, home to scooter gangs, drugs and every kind of laundering available to dirty men.

Two of the three stars have survived series six, in which the tight-knit CID team eventually got their men but emerged bruised and battered: they’ve lost the principled Tintin, finally fed up covering for the corrupt life-force that is “Gilou” Escoffier. Gilou’s back and now in charge, with a smart new deputy, Ali, while Laure recovers from her breakdown: but she, too, is soon back in the fold, shocked as they all are by the gunning down of Commissioner Herville. And, thankfully, the lovely examining magistrate Juge Roban (Philippe Duclos), with, perhaps, romance (with a twist) on the horizon?

The strength is the sheer breadth and depth of all characteristion. Within even half an episode you too will feel as if you know them, and will almost be able to tell when the pot-faced Gilou is going to take it empathetic with a vulnerable crim, and equally when he’s likely to lose it over an imagined slight, the friable bastard, and smash a fat glass ashtray into someone’s nose. All glorious. Happy days.

I made the mistake a few weeks ago of powering through every single outing of Nick Hornby’s lovely, subtle State of the Union in a single night. I won’t be erring in similar fashion with the latest series of Motherland, even though it’s tempting, it all having been dumped on iPlayer in one greedy gloop.

No, I’ll savour it: and the opener (all right, opening two) have riches to savour indeed. Chiefly, in the first, the gutsy performance of Tanya Moodie as ’aving-it-all, high-flying mum Meg, who soon lets slip that her very singular definition of “juggling” is being able to conduct a fluent South American conference-call while throwing up in a pub toilet, having just been arrested for pissing in the street. To, first of all, Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin) and her jealous disdain – her wordless, mouth-stretching half-sneers to every one of Meg’s matey gambits are a joy to half-behold – and, then, her sneaking admiration: might Meg even be a role-model, a mentor, someone who can help her navigate the vicissitudes of middle-class London motherhood?


Julia sinks back to her comfort levels of harried incompetence – and even below those levels, soon taking to arriving at the losers’ table in the cafe in sweatpants and cheap faux-furry coat. Even Liz, the wonderfully sane-speaking Diana Morgan, raises an eyebrow: “You look like a mental patient.”

Tanya Moodie and Anna Maxwell Martin in Motherland.
Meg (Tanya Moodie) impresses Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin) at the school drop-off in Motherland. Photograph: Colin Hutton/BBC/Merman

Is Julia about to have that long-threatened, possibly delicious, full English breakdown? And how long can the (equally well-drawn) Amanda (Lucy Punch), arriving way late to the “hygge” beanfeast with her over-niche shop (“store,” she will insist), funded by hubby’s guilt-money over the split, continue to sell scented candles at £89? Cards only (“we’re cashless!”)? I’m going to wait to find out, and suggest you toy weekly with it: subtler than Sharon Horgan’s Catastrophe, with input from a further three writers, this is at most turns a joy, although occasionally the type of joy felt upon the absence of pain about 40 seconds after stepping on a piece of Lego in your bare feet.

The Name of the Rose is a handsome German-Italian remake of the 1986 film, with John Turturro very much at ease, though less harrumphy, in the Sean Connery role as early-Sherlock Benedictine monk William of Baskerville. The cinematography is sinister and sublime in the snowy wastes of northern monasteries, all chilblained gargoyles and hooded monks; the story faithful so far to Umberto Eco’s surprising bestseller. All is good, if nothing yet to write home about, but I’m vaguely left, as with many remakes, especially of the over-faithful nature, with the question: why? (An exception, and a different question, comes with unfaithful remakes, as in The Wicker Man, in which my question was more impolite.)

The Capture, which was basically Bodyguard for people with degrees, didn’t at all disappoint, though I'm not sure it was entirely wise to finagle an ending that left open Rachel Carey’s return for a second series. Whatever: Holliday Grainger is now, I’d hope, firmly established, almost up there in a rather exalted pantheon with Keeley Hawes, Vicky McClure and Suranne Jones. And, while it rather made a meal at the end of who-can-you-ever-trust? – when all we’re simply aching for now is answers, not more questions – it certainly troubled the bejesus out of me in parts.

John Turturro in The Name of the Rose.
John Turturro’s Benedictine monk turns sleuth in The Name of the Rose. Photograph: Fabio Lovino/BBC/Palomar/11 Marzo Film

Zomboat! (ITV2, and the screamer’s hardly necessary: from the off it’s palpable that all is being played for ironic laughs, and homages and tropes are in full flow) is a little slice of fun, on a fun channel. It’s not half bad, actually, as soon as you can stop comparing it with Shaun of the Dead, whose footsteps it cheerfully and bloodily squelches through.

But it does so with a certain esprit, knockabout gamesters Nick Frost and Simon Pegg being here replaced by two young Brummie sisters of varying degrees of feist. There’s the blond one (Cara Theobald), her Sunday morning rendered suddenly perilous by simple virtue of never having seen any of the films of George A Romero; and there’s the geekier Leah Brotherhead, fan of the films and the shoot-em-ups, cautiously sizing up at every sinister crossroads the difference between killing zombies in video games (rolling-pin? Knife to the head?) and visceral real life.

Kat (Brotherhead) has the wizard wheeze that, to escape zombietown, they need only get on to the world’s slowest narrowboat: the walking dead can’t swim. (They can drunkenly limp, though: girls, I’d make it nippy through the many locks on the canal to London.) They’re joined accidentally in the enterprise by two British Asian youngsters of immense promise: Hamza Jeetooa (Sunny) and Ryan McKen (Amar), though their characters are seemingly there early on just to give us a giggle about gym-bunnies and millennials. Some grand gags and knowing movie references: it’s not big, it’s not clever, and it really doesn’t give a gleeful hoot.


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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