Monday, February 27, 2017

Code of a Killer

John Simm and David Threlfall.
Premise:  In 1983, the Leicestershire police discover the body of 15-year-old Lynda Mann, who was raped and murdered near her home. After an extensive investigation, Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker (David Threlfall) has to shut down the case when his team cannot discover the identity of the killer. Three years later, another teenager, Dawn Ashworth, is found dead--and the evidence points to the same murderer. This time, the police hone in on a young man named Gavin Hopkirk, who is arrested and eventually confesses--but only to the rape and murder of Dawn Ashworth. While trying to link Hopkirk to Lynda Mann, Baker reads about the work of Leicester University professor Alec Jeffreys (John Simm). The scientist has perfected a process called genetic fingerprinting, in which an individual can be identified by their unique DNA. Can this new technique be used to connect the two crimes? Or will it prove that Hopkirk is innocent and the real killer remains at large?

Running Time: 130 minutes.

Status:  Code of a Killer aired as a two-part mini-series in Great Britain in 2015. Acorn TV began streaming it as a three-part series in the U.S. in February 2017.

Production Notes: (Spoiler alert!) This mini-series is a fact-based account of the first use of genetic fingerprinting to identify and convict a criminal. Following his arrest, Colin Pitchfork pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to life imprisonment in January 1988. In 2016, Pitchfork was denied parole at a hearing, but was moved to an "open prison" according to BBC News. Bestselling author Joseph Wambaugh (The Blue Knight) wrote a non-fiction book in 1989 about the case called The Blooding: A True Story of the Narborough Village Murders.

Our Review: Code of a Killer is a gripping, fact-based drama that hooks the audience from the outset, but becomes more compelling as it progresses. The first episode cross-cuts between Baker's investigation and Jeffreys' DNA research. Each plot is interesting on its own, but it's when they converge in the second episode that the mini-series becomes essential television viewing. The introverted Baker and the absent-minded Jeffreys seem to share little in common at first, but their bond turns out to be an obsessive drive for knowledge. David Threlfall and John Simm are excellent as the unlikely duo. American audiences may be unfamiliar with Threlfall, who starred in the British comedy-drama series Shameless for eleven seasons (when the series was adapted for U.S. television, William H. Macy played Threlfall's role). John Simm has appeared in numerous series which have attracted followings in the U.S., most notably the original Life on Mars, Doctor Who (in a recurring role as The Master), and Prey.

Grade: A.

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