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Review: A Mind to Kill - series one

Posted on March 6, 2009 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

A Mind To Kill

You wouldn't know it from the BFI's celebration of 25 years of Channel 4 and S4C, but S4C does in fact produce television programmes, some of them quite good. Have a look at Caerdydd. Go on. It's good.

But it would be a mistake to think this is a recent development. A case in point is A Mind to Kill, Wales' answer to Taggart. Starring Welsh man-god Philip Madoc as widower Detective Inspector Noel Bain, A Mind to Kill was a dark and gritty 1991 TV movie about neo-Nazis set and filmed in South Wales.

Shot in both English and Welsh - as (Noson) yr Heliwr (which, I think means either The Night Hunter or Hunter in the Night. Anyone?) - the film, the charismatic Bain and the series format proved popular enough that a series of sequel films was made, running for five series from 1994 to 2004 - even making the transition to the rest of the UK by airing on Five. Yet almost nobody remembers it.

Praise be, then, the first series is being released on DVD by Network on March 16th.

This first set of three DVDs contains six episodes, some of which had been released on VHS previously:

  • White Rocks
    A young mother is murdered at a holiday park, and her seven-year-old son vanishes
  • Gameboys
    A charred body leads to the discovery of an underworld of sex, drugs and deception.
  • Rest Not Secure
    Noel Bain is taken hostage by an escaped prisoner with a demented plan.
  • Black Silence
    Noel Bain investigates the murder of a prostitute in his home town.
  • Son of His Works
    A murder is the link between a religious sect, a heroin dealer and a prominent judge.
  • Rachel Hardcastle
    Noel Bain becomes a prime suspect in a convoluted murder case.

While by no means predictable, each 90-minute odd episode - all but one of which is written by English writer David Joss Buckley - does reference certain themes and it's interesting to compare it with its similar Swedish equivalent Wallander (whose daughter also grows up to become a cop as well). While seemingly starting with some stereotypical part of South Welsh life (eg bar fights, roudy kids, rugby. holiday camps, blokes out on the lash), each episode goes on instead to expose a dark aspect of Welsh society. Whether it's paedophilia, wife beating or some equally unpleasant crime, Bain uses his charisma, instinct and moral authority to track down and expose the criminal - usually with a fight, a car chase or a Mexican stand-off to round off the episode.   

Of the episodes, White Rocks is the most experimental and shows that the format was taking some time to evolve. While the main characters are all there, including Bain, his daughter and pathologist Margaret Edwards, the direction owes far more to cheap horror movies than the far better, more skilled and more obviously crime-story derived direction of later episodes. It also lacks Mark Thomas's haunting flute theme that was to become one of the hallmarks of the show. But the likes of later episodes, such as Black Silence and Rest Not Secure, are built on a far more solid foundation.

To a certain extent, A Mind To Kill, even if you love dark crime stories, is a bit of an acquired taste. You have to get used to the more extrovert Welsh acting style as well as occasionally quite bad supporting actors. Some of it feels a little naive - as was much of the TV of the time - with the disturbed teenager in White Rocks feeling more like an eight-year old, for example, and Son of His Works is actually quite silly. So you have to mentally sort wheat from chaff as you're watching it.

But it is worth it: the central stories are all deeply disturbing, often through the off-handedness with which some of the themes are dealt with; Philip Madoc's performance is magnificent throughout (and the equally powerful John Rhys Davies pops up for the appropriately titled Black Silence); and there's a surprising underlying intelligence and sensitivity to the scripts in a show so dark. Plus it's Welsh, so you should watch it for that reason, too.

Here's are clips from the opening five minutes of Rest Not Secure and the opening seven minutes of the final episode, Rachel Hardcastle, just to give you a sample.

Picture and sound
Sound is perfectly acceptable, but picture quality is only reasonable, often feeling like a bad video transfer rather than a proper DVD release - although given the "archive nature of the material" and the unlikeliness of huge profits that might justify a picture clean-up, that's not too much of a shock.

A Mind to Kill DVD Menu

Extras
Absolutely none whatsoever. No commentaries, no alternate language tracks, no subtitles in either Welsh or English, no trailers. Not even a scene selection menu.
"Play All" or "Select an episode" are your only choices on each disk.

Rating: 3/5 for lack of effort, with points being awarded for the episodes themselves.
Price: £24.99 RRP (available from Amazon)

Related entries

  • July 31, 2009: What have you been watching this week (w/e 31st July)
    What have you been watching this week?
  • October 7, 2010: Why there's no Welsh language release of A Mind To Kill on DVD
    Why there isn't a Welsh language release for A Mind To Kill on DVD

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