Friday, July 29, 2022

Westward Ho!

by Ben Soton

Why is West Country drama all the rage these days? The English West Country; the region starting in Dorset and heading west across Devon, Cornwall, while including Somerset and Avon and ending around Gloucestershire is often seen as a rural backwater but the area includes major cities such as Bristol, once the home of the slave trade, as well as the cathedral city of Bath.
    It seems ironic that in recent months both major terrestrial television channels have screened Sunday night dramas set in this English region. The BBC recently hosting the second series of The Outlaws, Stephen Merchants black comedy set in his native Bristol; whilst ITV showed the third series McDonald & Dobbs set in Bath.
    However, these two dramas could not be more different. In the case of McDonald & Dobbs the focus is on the relationship between two very contrasting police officers. Jason Watkins plays Detective Sergeant Dodds a somewhat OCD officer in his fifties whilst Tala Gouveia plays Detective Sergeant McDonald, aged around thirty, on secondment from the Met with a desire for promotion. Whilst McDonald & Dobbs focuses on the police The Outlaws, perhaps by its very name, focuses on the criminal.
    The overriding theme of The Outlaws is anti-crime but pro-criminal. It’s heroes are a diverse group of minor offenders ranging from a black civil rights campaigner and a business man sacked by his own father while another leading character is a drug dealer forced into crime by lack of job opportunities. All of these characters are victims of a London based gangster known as The Dean.
    This is an obvious reference to the so-called County Lines operations where London based criminals are taking over business from local drug dealers. The Outlaws is set in the ethnically diverse, city of Bristol; a mayor seaport once noted for its aircraft industry; whilst the city came to fame in recent years when a group of its residents through the statue of slave owner, Edward Colston, into the Bristol Channel.
    On the other hands McDonald & Dobbs is essentially a whodunit with complex plots; the level of complexity resembles Jonathan Creek from the 1990s. In the series both the victims and suspects are a mix of social-media celebrities, Formula One drivers and high-level academics. Scenes are interlaced with panoramic shots of the city of Bath; with its unique eighteenth century architecture as well as views of the surrounding countryside. This unique mixture gives the show a touch of Agatha Christie meets Death in Paradise.
    It is good to see television series set outside of London once in a while although regional crime dramas are not unique. Morse and Endeavour were set in Oxford, Life on Mars and Line of Duty set in Manchester to name but a few. I can even recall the fictional television presenter suggesting a detective series based in Norwich!
    But as a Sotonian I suggest maybe it’s time we had a series based in Southampton…

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