Why won’t you let your heroine strike back, JK? CHRISTOPER STEVENS reviews Strike: Lethal White as JK Rowling’s crime series returns to our screens
Strike: Lethal White
Life isn’t fair. Tom Burke barely has to act as moody private investigator Cormoran Strike: He just stomps around with a scowl, lighting cigarettes and grunting. Yet his one-legged character gets star billing.
As JK Rowling’s crime series returned, his name was the headline – Strike: Lethal White (BBC1).
His assistant Holliday Grainger, on the other hand, was acting herself silly.
In the space of an hour, she had to play a bride who realised she was marrying the wrong man, a fearless sleuth with a chirpy Northern accent, a posh bird who claimed her name was Venetia (‘like the blinds, yar!’) and a nervous wreck beset by panic attacks.
Yet despite all that hard work, Grainger is the supporting actress; just to rub it in, her character is called Robin (Ellacott), moniker of another eternal sidekick. Holy poke-in-the-eye, Batman!
Pictured: Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott and Kerr Logan as Metthew Cunliffe in Lethal White
JK (who writes the Strike stories under a male pen-name, Robert Galbraith) prides herself on being an old-school feminist.
She even went to war with the Kennedy dynasty last week, returning an award after they criticised her opposition to transgender activists.
So it’s a mystery why she expects her female detective to do all the work while the bloke gets all the glory.
Never mind: Strike adventures are such fun. They show the same talent Rowling displayed in her Harry Potter books for sketching vivid characters in only a few lines.
Robert Glenister played a Tory Cabinet minister, Jasper Chiswell, whose terse growl hid grief for his favourite son, killed on duty in Afghanistan. T
he Rt Hon Gentleman had hired Strike and Robin to probe a blackmailing … then refused to tell them his guilty secret.
That might be connected to the ritualistic murder of a child two decades ago.
Pictured: Holliday Grainger and Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike in Strike: The Silkworm
The 32-year-old swapped her on-screen wedding dress for dungarees as she stolled hand-in-hand with actor boyfriend Harry Treadaway, 35, in north London
A twitching junkie (Nick Blood) broke into Strike’s offices to scrawl a clue on the wall and blurt out a story of something he saw on the Chiswell estate.
My favourite in the long cast list was Jasper’s appalling daughter, Izzy (Christina Cole), a parliamentary assistant with no conception of what can and can’t be said out loud.
She swanned through the corridors of the Palace of Westminster complaining about infestations of mice, rats and Labour MPs.
Making excuses for her flirty half-brother, she blamed his Italian blood: ‘Not to be racist, but I honestly think it’s a factor.’
There’s a marked absence of Latin passion about Robin’s new husband, dreary accountant Matthew (Kerr Logan). The biggest mystery about this show is why she stays with him.
Matt is such a chauvinist pig that he probably has ‘Danish bacon’ tattooed underneath his curly pink tail.
From gown to dungarees, it’s Holliday Grungier
She may have been playing the unhappy bride as BBC1 drama Strike returned last night, but for Holliday Grainger her real-life romance looks rosy.
The 32-year-old swapped her on-screen wedding dress for dungarees as she stolled hand-in-hand with actor boyfriend Harry Treadaway, 35, in north London.
She plays Robin Ellacott opposite Tom Burke’s private detective Cormoran Strike in the series based on JK Rowling’s novels.
At their housewarming party, he ordered Robin to hand around the cheddar-and-pineapple on cocktail sticks – and, when she slowed down, yelled at her: ‘I feel the need, the need for cheeeese!’ All his mates brayed.
Yet somehow Robin, who has wrestled serial killers and defied kidnappers, didn’t slam the nibbles in his face.
JK revealed this year that she was the victim of domestic violence during her first marriage, in her twenties, and it’s easy to imagine Matt’s bullying and belittling were based on her own experiences.
But just because an event happened in real life doesn’t automatically make it good drama.
Robin is the best element of the Strike series and her character is undermined when we see her treated like a dishcloth in one scene, then boldly taking charge of a dangerous investigation in the next.
Even in her children’s books, Rowling liked to tackle Important Issues.
Now that she’s writing for grown-ups, there’s a risk that the plot becomes buried under its right-on references.
When Robin posed as a House of Commons intern, a handsy MP (Robert Pugh, always menacing) took a fancy to her.
She had to grit her teeth while the beast draped a casual hand across her shoulder.
Finally, she could take no more and recoiled.
A narrow escape from a hideous fate – at any moment that wandering hand (steel yourself, gentle reader) might have touched her knee.
No doubt there are some inveterate old gropers in the mother of parliaments.
But to have Robin encounter one in her first five minutes felt forced, a #MeToo moment that seemed just another tick on a woke checklist.
Underneath the social commentary, there’s a strong crime drama, plotted with Rowling’s usual ingenuity.
Peg-leg Strike, with his cigs and greatcoat, might be two-dimensional, but he’s trustworthy: A dogged detective who won’t rest until the case is solved.
And that’s really all we ask. Strike doesn’t have to change the world – just catch the killer.
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