Hidden: Hard-Boiled and Crackeresque

October 7, 2011


A troubled man looks out of a window over a cold landscape; a couple of armed hoodlums knocking on the front door of a house; and a girl followed down a Paris back street by a man with a knife.

This quiet montage in the opening of Hidden, a new conspiracy thriller on BBC1, with snippets of seemingly unconnected events, sets up what will doubtless become clear throughout subsequent episodes of this four part series.

Philip Glenister & Thelka Reuten (BBC)

We’re straight into the murky world of Harry Venn, a small-time high street solicitor unaccustomed to regularly using a razor and working out of an office straight out of film noir. Frosted glass, a secretary (whom in this case is a lad in his 20’s), dim light from the street creeping through the blinds, and the beautiful dame waiting patiently for her 11 o’clock appointment. There’s even the “H.Venn & Co” painted on the office door, “Co” clearly having departed long ago.

There’s no ambiguity as to what type of character we’re about to meet when we are introduced to our hero. His girlfriend cries as he meekly breaks up with her from the other side of his grubby desk, professing that he doesn’t have time to talk about it, he has appointments.

Our man is like a cross between Jimmy McGovern’s Fitz from the acclaimed Cracker, and a hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart private eye – with just as much respect for women.

The intrigue begins when Gina Hawkes (Thelka Reuten), a lawyer who is drip-feeding Harry information, dredging-up memories of his chequered past and revisiting the violent death of his brother Mark 20 years ago. No real conspiracy thriller would be complete without the dirty dealings of the upper echelons of society and back-stabbing power struggles of the political elite, with a Prime Minister facing allegations of suspicious Swiss bank accounts.

Harry is commissioned with finding a key alibi witness for one of Gina’s clients, baited by information that Mark may in fact not be dead – and a £20,000 fee of course.

Just like any PI in popular culture he’s got a ton of baggage. Savvy with the hard-boiled arrogance that goes along with it, he has a teenage son who hates his guts, and he’s charming enough to make any woman pause to consider a seedy offer – one phone call and we cut to the post-coital fag in his ex-wife’s bed.

Harry soon follows the scent for the truth, and in doing so we begin to see a deeply troubled man trying to bury the past. Glenister moves seamlessly through the cracks of Venn’s personality trying, and failing, to impose some sort of authority over his delinquent son, his cowed child-like submissiveness to his girlfriend, and his growing fascination with the mysterious Gina, spurred on by his aggressive libido.

I have to admit that when I first saw Philip Glenister I was worried that all I’d see is Gene Hunt from Life on Mars; at times the portrayal of Harry has that same surly air, but that’s Glenister’s style, and something he does very well.

I found Reuten’s Gina as fascinating as Harry does. She’s his female equivalent, intelligent and coldly assertive, but just like Harry we see the pillar of stone begin to shake, delivering instructions to Harry over the phone as she reluctantly leaves for Paris.

It’s gripping enough, planting the seeds of intrigue for the seemingly unconnected story arcs, and you want to find out about Harry’s past as much as he wants to forget it. I can’t wait for episode two, which is not something I say often.

Episode two of Hidden is on Thursday at 9PM on BBC1.

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