“In a court, the first thing I was asked to do was to take the holy Bible in my hand and swear by Almighty God. It would be strange if I and everyone else in this room did not believe in the supernatural.” Detective Superintendent Roy Grace
Testifying in a murder trial, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace does not apologize for consulting a medium during his investigation. That statement is pounced on by the British tabloids, producing headlines like, “Top Cop Calls Ghost Busters.” His superior officer, Assistant Chief Constable Alison Vosper (Rakie Ayola), anticipating that Grace’s statement will lead the jury to acquit, tells him he’s on thin ice. But that doesn’t stop one of his colleagues, Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson (Richie Campbell) from asking for Grace’s help on a case. While Grace does, from time to time, go back to that medium, it’s his intelligence and investigative skills that make him the best detective in the Brighton police department.
Grace, the gritty new mystery series from BritBox, is based on the novels by Peter James. Directed by John Alexander and Julia Ford, the screenplay is by Russell Lewis, whose credits include the PBS series, Endeavor. John Simm, known for playing Sam Tyler in Life on Mars, is the perfect actor to play the multi-faceted British detective. Although tough and tenacious, Grace’s personal history – his wife, Sandy, disappeared six years ago without a trace – makes him empathize with victims of the crimes he investigates.
This series, however, is not warm and fuzzy. Like the James’ thrillers, the two episodes made available for review are not for the faint of heart. Think Silence of the Lambs rather than Midsommer Murders. In “Dead Simple,” anyone who suffers from claustrophobia should take note. Michael Neward (Tom Weston-Jones), a wealthy real estate developer, is the target of a practical joke during his stag party. After an evening of heavy drinking, four of his friends bury Michael in a coffin equipped with a breathing tube. Their plan is to release him in a few hours. But after their van crashes, three of them die and one lands in a coma. Michael is now trapped with no one knowing where he is. Davey, a mentally challenged young man, picked up the two-way radio he found at the accident scene. He talks to Michael, but fails to understand the urgency of the situation. Grace bonds with Michael’s distraught fiancé, Ashley (Alisha Bailey), understanding all too well the agony involved waiting for someone who is missing to be found alive.
In “Looking Good Dead,” Grace suspects that a serial killer is at work, and an evil and sick one at that. The two victims are linked by their sexual proclivities, but also by tokens (now called “collectibles,” according to Grace), left at the scene. An innocent business owner finds a thumb drive on the train and when he inserts it into his computer, enters the dark web. That innocent act places him and his family in danger. He’s warned not to contact the police, but he may be Grace’s last hope to stop the killer.
Neither one of these episodes is straight forward, meaning there are many twists, turns, dead bodies and suspects before Grace finally nabs the killers. While the focus is on Simm, the supporting cast is excellent. Campbell’s Branson is the polar opposite of Simm’s Grace. Married with children, Branson is cautious and methodical. He worries that Grace’s penchant for mediums will destroy his career. And he and his wife, Ari (Rebecca Scroggs), urge Grace to accept that Sandy is gone and move on. Ayola, whose credits include Silent Witness and a riveting role on the popular Shetland, isn’t afraid to go toe to toe with Grace, whether she’s fighting against him or with him.
Grace is off to a terrific start with strong scripts, skilled direction, and a stellar cast. The squeamish, however, should keep a finger on that fast forward button.
Grace will be available to stream on BritBox.
Photos courtesy of BritBox