TV review: The Field of Blood

Gary Day sees good versus evil in a hard-headed tale of murder set in a Glasgow newsroom

September 1, 2011

Credit: Miles Cole

The Field of Blood (BBC One, Monday 29 August, 10.15pm) is an adaptation of Denise Mina's novel of the same name. It's the first in the Patricia "Paddy" Meehan series of stories. As they are set in Glasgow, it's not surprising to find the word "blood" in the title, but "field"? The only green on view was the grocer's van. Unless you count Paddy, whose emerald soul could land her a spot on Gardeners' World. It's 1982 and she's a runner at The Daily News or, to give her her official title, "the fat tart who makes the coffee". It was bestowed on her by the editor, a man called Devlin. Go on, shuffle the letters a bit. Devlin is incapable of describing what's in front of him, which makes you fear for standards of journalism. For Paddy is not remotely on the portly side. She is a perfectly normal size, despite her own protestations to the contrary. If the character has a weight problem in the novel, then cast accordingly. Don't, as the writer and director David Kane freely admits to having done, "bugger about" with the original. Young girls have enough anxieties about their self-image as it is.

The story, like that of Jamie Bulger, starts with the disappearance of a child. One minute, little Brian is banging a metal bar against a lamp post, the next, he has vanished. His mum took her eye off him for a moment and her life is wrenched out of joint for ever. What do you do with your time now that you don't have to look after your child - take him to the park, play, read him a story, kiss him goodnight? Endlessly grieve, feel endlessly guilty.

His body is found by the canal. Devlin is delighted to get the news before a rival paper because it will boost circulation. "It's not essential to lose your humanity," he tells Paddy in a rare moment of mentoring, "but it helps." He is puzzled by her ambition. "Why do you want to be like that mean-spirited bunch of bastards?" he says, pointing to the fag-fug of the newsroom. Reporters in the mist. "Hearts like bone and they always think the worst of people."

But Paddy doesn't want to be like them. For a start, she doesn't smoke. No, she wants to find the truth. She wants to move her readers. She wants to make a difference. "Fuck me!" cries Devlin, when she finally finishes her oration. "I've just had a Frank Capra moment!" He may scoff, but his sort need the occasional shot of naivety to top up their cynicism levels.

Paddy's green pedigree is also to do with her being Irish. She is named after Patrick Meehan, who was wrongly imprisoned for murder. He was eventually given a royal pardon, thanks to a campaign led by Ludovic Kennedy. The theme of wronged innocence throbbed through the drama. A member of Paddy's family, a young boy called Callum, is arrested for the murder of Brian. And Paddy is blamed because the press print the story. It wasn't her who spilled the beans, it was her colleague, Heather, in whom she had confided and who she had sworn to secrecy. As you can imagine, Paddy wasn't best pleased with this betrayal and dragged Heather to the loo, where she made the miscreant look at herself in the toilet bowl before pulling the chain and completely ruining her coiffure.

It just wasn't Heather's week. Only the other night, Brian's mother had thrown a bowl of urine over her. Worse still, she'd been mistaken for Paddy. Paddy! Who doesn't even have shoulder pads! After such a terrible few days, she was probably relieved to meet her demise in an underground car park.

The Field of Blood spread out in too many directions. There was family conflict, an exploration of journalistic ethics, a brief foray into poverty, and something else; what was it, now? Oh yes, a murder. The many different strands dissipated the tension. Perhaps next week, we will be peeping from behind our cushions. But I doubt it. What we have here is more a Bildungsroman than a thriller. Even some of the characters don't seem that enthusiastic. "Dr Pete", for instance, preferred drinking himself to death to being involved in the plot.

Denise Mina popped up a few times on The A-Z of Crime (ITV3, Thursday 1 September, 9pm), a jolly romp through the key words of the genre. It contained a few snippets that will be useful in a pub quiz. Apparently, Agatha Christie's books outsell the Bible and the first use of DNA fingerprinting was to prove someone's innocence. But there was nothing on why Ms Mina named her novel after the place where Judas committed suicide. Some mysteries remain unsolved.

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