In Plain Sight, a three part drama about notorious Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel begins on ITV on 7 December at 9.00pm. Douglas Henshall, who plays Detective Inspector William Runcie – the man responsible for finally bringing Manuel to justice – talks about the true life drama and how he always like to use his own facial hair!
Did you know about this story before the drama came along?
“I mainly knew about it through my mum because she was about 17, 18, when Peter Manuel was notorious. My mum died a good while ago but I remember her talking about how nervous and frightened people were.
“We’re from Barrhead which is not that far from Birkenshaw and Uddingston but it’s far enough to be able to realise that my mum and her friends probably weren’t in any danger at all. But it proves the way fear reaches out. Especially when you haven’t caught somebody and you are reading these terrible things in the newspapers.
“God only knows what it must have been like for the people who were actually living there at the time. So listening to my mum it just shows how that fear spread. It’s an astonishing story and surprising it hasn’t been told in a TV drama before.”
Did you do any of your own research?
“I read William Muncie’s book The Crime Pond and I’ve dipped into that every now and again. I liked Muncie’s description of Peter Manuel as a lone heron and his analogy of his patch as a pond. He thinks about nature in relation to human nature. In his home on screen we see books on bird watching and copies of the National Geographic. I don’t think he was an enthusiast for its own sake. Consciously or unconsciously, it was something he used for his work.”
Is there any extra responsibility when you play a real person?
“Yes. Mainly to the victims. Muncie’s daughter is also still alive. I feel a certain amount of responsibility to try and recreate a man who was someone she might not recognise physically or even with the things he says or the way he says them, but the spirit of the man is at least there. I can try to get a little bit of that. But it’s mainly for Manuel’s victims.
“Our producer Gillian McNeill and writer Nick Stevens spoke to Muncie’s daughter. What she remembered about her dad was that he was funny. He was always cracking jokes. Despite all of the terrible things he must have seen during the day, he didn’t bring his work home with him. I’ve tried to bring a sense of that to the family scenes. There isn’t that much of an overspill from his work. I wanted to try and make him an identifiable human being. A decent, good man.”
Was Muncie ahead of his time or just a good detective?
“I think both. He was quite progressive in so far as he looked towards America for new ways of working. He was always looking for new ways to be able to do things and catch people. I think the notion of a serial killer first came from America and Peter Manuel was the first person to have that label attached to him in Scotland. The job seems to have been a vocation for Muncie.”
We first see Muncie with Manuel in 1946 when he was a 31-year-old sergeant and Manuel was 18 and about to go to prison for the first time?
“Muncie knew him from when Manuel was a teenage burglar. When you first see him with Manuel there’s a powerful moment where Muncie slaps him and says, ‘You’re not a boy anymore. It’s not going to be borstal. It’s going to be prison this time.’
“Before it became clear he was dealing with a psychopath, Muncie thinks, ‘Straighten yourself out, son. This is real what you’re doing and what you’re being punished for now.’ And at the end he says, ‘When you get out, I’ll still be here.’ In other words, ‘I’m not going to forget who you are and just ignore you.’
“So that seems to be somebody who was quite advanced for their years because he was only in his early thirties then. When I think about myself in my early thirties and then I think about that, it’s quite grown up.”
How shocking is it to learn the details of Manuel’s murders?
“It’s really shocking what he did. And also very sad how accidental some of his most heinous crimes were. He murdered one family but he wasn’t actually targeting them. He was going for the house next door but miscounted the street numbers, because the street started at two instead of one.”
Muncie and his family lived in a police house across the road from his police station. Did that put them at risk from Manuel?
“Today’s online generation will understand the idea of online abuse and trolling. But back then it wasn’t some invisible person. You have actually got that person coming to your house. So you can imagine how much more frightening that is. Because then it’s not some anonymous person writing terrible things to you. It’s somebody who lives in the same area and comes personally to your house to deliver the message. A very real threat to Muncie’s wife and two children. Muncie tried to shield his family from that but it must have been a real worry for him.”
What was it like filming the scenes with Martin Compston involving Muncie and Manuel?
“There are only three actual interview scenes where we are together but there are a few other scenes as well as that. In terms of filming for Martin and I, it’s either a Manuel day or a Muncie day. So we tend to cross as he arrives and I leave or whatever. But we’ve been out a few times together socially.
“There’s an edge underneath the interview scenes with Muncie and Manuel and I hope that comes across. A lot of it is me facilitating Martin talking. So I put my ten pence in and watch the show roll. Then it’s about Muncie trying to wrong foot Manuel in some way.”
Do you think Manuel wanted to be caught?
“The psychology of that is interesting but the wrong conclusions you can draw from it are also myriad. I do wonder if there wasn’t a side of him that actually wanted to get caught. Or that he always knew he was going to be caught but he wanted to see how much he could get away with.
“He never seemed to show any remorse. I don’t know whether he felt any inside for himself. It’s difficult to know. If you want to get away with these crimes, why would you keep doing them? Unless it was a compulsion. And if it’s a compulsion to do that then I don’t understand that kind of thinking. I don’t understand his mind.”
Policing was also different back then with only basic forensic methods and communciations?
“Manuel was very clever in that he never left fingerprints. DNA and other modern techniques just didn’t exist then to link him to the murders. Nothing like that was available. So if you didn’t have fingerprints or an eyewitness it was difficult for the police.”
Muncie went on to become assistant chief constable. But he did make mistakes in his career?
“He had a remarkable record of 54 murder cases and 54 convictions.
“I think it’s probably just as well he was infallible because that makes me think he was more honest. If he made mistakes they were honest mistakes. And in the case of Peter Manuel he also saved one other man from being wrongly convicted and hanging. He was just days away from the gallows but was completely exonerated.”
What locations did you film in?
“The Manuel family house is still there. His sister Theresa lived there until her death in 2008. But we didn’t film there. I don’t think it’s necessary to use the original locations.
“Some of the streets where we’ve filmed on look like it would have done in the 1950s. So we don’t have to hide very much from the modern day. It’s mainly about what you have to hide and what you can get away with.
“I know many of these places where we’ve been filming from my own life. Some are just up the road from where I was brought up.
You play Muncie with a moustache. Is it your own?
“The moustache is mine. I couldn’t bear the idea of having one stuck on every day. And it’s not just the fact you have it stuck on in the morning, it’s the maintenance of it through the day. And there’s enough touching and poking and fixing and stuff to get done during the day anyway that the idea of that would just drive me nuts. So if I ever have to have any facial hair I prefer to grow my own. I don’t particularly like it because it’s not my thing. But it’s preferable to the other.
“We do the very first interview scene in 1946 on the very last day of filming because that means I can shave off my moustache to make Muncie look a bit younger.”
In Plain Sight begins on ITV on 7 December 2016 at 9.00pm
The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai
Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.
What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.
It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.
Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.
Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.
One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.
Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.
What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.
Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!
What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.
I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.
Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small
Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.
What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].
How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.
How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.
Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.
What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!
What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.
Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.
What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.
How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.
Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.
How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!
Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.
Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!
What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!
Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!
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