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TV review: Wolf, Alone, and The Power of Parker

11 August 2023

BBC/Hartswood Films Ltd/Simon Ridgway

Julie Stevenson plays Matilda Anchor-Ferrers in Wolf (BBC1, Mondays and Tuesdays)

Julie Stevenson plays Matilda Anchor-Ferrers in Wolf (BBC1, Mondays and Tuesdays)

IF HANNAH ARENDT watched the new six-part thriller Wolf (BBC1, Mondays and Tuesdays), the banality of evil might have been joined by the boredom of sadism as an explanation of why our gaze quickly slips away from wrongdoing. Adapted from the late Mo Hayder’s DI Caffery novels, Wolf is a viscous amalgam of slasher movie and Scandi-noir boxset, with a splash of winking irony. Early in episode one, Ukweli Roach’s Caffery is admonished by his boss for not drinking, undermining detectives’ image as “depressed alcoholics”.

But Caffery more than pulls his weight in fictional investigators’ other requirement: obsession with a past crime, his brother Ewan’s 1998 disappearance. Caffery believes that the culprit is snaggle-toothed neighbour Ivan Penderecki (Anthony Webster). Naturally, he gets suspended from duty for ordering unauthorised searches of the suspect’s house.

Believing that a missing 14 days in Penderecki’s prison record will yield conclusive evidence, Caffery drives to his old Newport patch to interview a former inmate who is now living as a hermit. The price of the hermit’s help is that Caffery must investigate a limping white dog found with “help us” written on a scrap of card in its collar. Wandering near the site of the Donkey Pitch Murders, the dog links to the more dramatic storyline of the Anchor-Ferrers family, whose imposing house borders the double murder scene.

By episode two, the family are well into their time being held captive by two men posing as police officers: DI Honey (Sacha Dhawan) and DS Molina (Iwan Rheon). Juliet Stevenson is superb as the matriarch Matilda, the only family member capable of withstanding their captors’ escalating cruelty. The fake police’s assault begins with language, then invasion of personal space and appropriation of possessions, before threats of violence and violence. Framing menace as cosplay renders it more scary, not less.

The Anchor-Ferrers trouble begins when Matilda skewers holes in a lemon-drizzle cake; and Wolf’s implausible plot resembles the cake. But news of Andrew Malkinson’s wrongful conviction makes Wolf’s exploration of fitting up suspects timely.

Alone (Channel 4, Sundays) also has a confusing timeline and unanswered questions. The survival show, copied from an American format, strands 11 contestants in Canada’s north-west, with ten bushcraft items and cameras. A Mackenzie River graphic showing contestant locations creates the impression of contemporaneous footage. But some survivalists are in puffas and Nordic sweaters, while others are stripped to the waist or skinny-dipping. Can they be experiencing the same weather? The edit lingers on the youngsters, supplying well-lit back stories and motivation, while older contestants are glimpses of bobble-hat rustling in the leaves. Self-reflection is as rare as food and drinkable water. The oldest contestant, Mike, says that his joinery skills will be his advantage — and then he stabs his thigh with an axe. Hubris could be Alone’s master-clue.

The second episode of The Power of Parker (BBC1, Fridays) is its stodgiest. But the 1990 set comedy is worth sticking with for Kath’s (Sian Gibson) frenzied “Peace be with you” and an X-shaped sign of the cross, when her sister and rival-in-love Diane (Rose Cavaliero) passes her off as a “friend from church”.


Gillean Craig is away.

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