With so many big budget crime thrillers and stylish dramas out there, it’s somewhat refreshing to find a show like Manhunt sticking to such a simple premise and style. This three-part ITV drama tells the story of serial murderer Levi Bellfield through the memoirs of the lead detective on the case, Colin Sutton. With an inspired Martin Clunes at the helm, Manhunt slowly increases the tension through its three episodes, piecing together the puzzle bit by bit before a dramatic finale that brings this true-crime story to a close.
The first episode begins moments after the murder of a 22-year-old French National on Twickenham Green. After being promoted to lead the investigation, Colin Sutton quickly finds himself in over his head, with little to go on in terms of clues or leads. After a coincidental break in the case, the ball starts rolling as the investigative team hone in on the lead suspect, Levi Bellfield. As more truths come to light, the police ramp up in preparation to arrest Bellfield and prevent him from escaping.
To complicate matters, the News Of The World get involved weeks before the raid, threatening to run a story which would consequently prompt Levi to catch wind of the investigation. This all builds toward some light negotiation from the police, edging toward a dramatic finale that sees this tale come to a close in the same manner it begun.
While Manhunt lacks the big budget and explosive action that’s made so many other crime dramas so memorable, this show instead revels in the simplicity of its premise. To prevent mundanity from settling in, Manhunt throws in an impressive amount of realism, showing the analytical and methodical way investigations are uncovered in real time. With numerous teams liaising together, tensions do arise although at times this feels a little superficial, designed to keep things moving along and interesting rather than truly reflecting the nature of the work.
To make matters worse, the familial drama with Colin is never fully resolved, despite the time spent with his family which is a little disappointing. Still, it’s a minor point though and for the most part doesn’t detract too much from the enjoyment. Although it is worth mentioning that the lack of characterisation for most of the supporting cast does hold this back from being a more engrossing and memorable title.
Thankfully, Martin Clunes is sublime in his role as DCI Colin Sutton, balancing the professional and personal life of this case-obsessed detective to perfection. The self-destruction he undergoes through the series with his family is nicely realized although as mentioned, the lack of closure here is a little disappointing. With a little more charisma from the supporting cast, it may have been enough to make Manhunt more memorable but despite some great acting from its lead star, Manhunt doesn’t quite do enough to stand out next to other heavy hitters in this genre.
With Manhunt trying to be as realistic as possible, it’ll likely appeal to a very specific audience, unwavering in its initial premise. It’s not the sort of police procedural you’ll remember for years to come but it is an important series, one that tells its story with respect and nuance to avoid it feeling like a cash-in on a real tragedy. Manhunt’s simplicity is ultimately its biggest draw and fans of simple fact-driven detective stories are likely to find a lot to like here.