Dark Heart (TV drama 2016) review

©ITV Plc

I watched “Dark Heart” starring Tom Riley, going in without any real expectations. I have not read the book on which the drama is based on. Some spoilers follow but not the main reveal.

Will Wagstaffe, aka Staffe is called away from his holiday plans by an unusual murder. Another attack follows. Someone is targeted unconvicted paedophiles and torturing them. Will insists the paedophiles are victims and deserving of justice because the law is paramount. This means dragging up the past for the young victims and their families.

Will is also haunted by the approaching anniversary of his parents’ deaths. They were murdered and the perpetrator never found. (This drives Will’s desire for administering justice but no progress is made in this case – there are further books featuring the character so possibly it will be addressed later).

Will also has issues with his relationships; his ex girlfriend is the most sympathetic, acknowledging the anniversary and offering him support (emotional but also sexual). Meanwhile Will’s sister Juliette aka Jules (Charlotte Riley, no relation to Tom Riley as far I know) and her son, Hal, have come to stay with him in their parents’ home. She wants Will to sell the house and move on.

However Jules is a single mother whose idea of moving on is to marry and have more kids with Paulo, who likes to punch her in the face. She says she’s staying with Will because the boiler is broken but it’s clear she’s getting away from Paulo. Yet she soon brings him into Will’s home and life, determined to, as Will points out, keep punishing herself by making bad choices.

Will is afraid for his sister and nephew and in one scene follows Paulo and attacks him. Paulo thinks it was a random mugging. Will is willing to break the law when it suits him, despite his earlier sermonising. (He later also compromises evidence by obtaining it illegally.)

The drama is dark in tone and the message seemed to be that everyone is pretty awful. There is no hope in this bleak world, and past tragedies can never be overcome. There’s a lot of cigarette smoking which seems to be used to indicate low class/unsympathetic characters.

I guessed the reveal well before it was shown, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. In fact the more frantic last thirty minutes were the better part of the drama.

Will is hard to summon up strong feelings for. His past tragedy makes him sympathetic, as does his desire to protect his remaining family, but I didn’t find him a compelling protagonist. Perhaps he’s supposed to be numb hence his world weary attitude.

The supporting police officers were good, Josie Chancellor, willing to call Will out when he needs it, and steadfast Dave Pulford.

The plot summary reads that the drama takes place during a heatwave but I saw no evidence of this, nor any bearing of the weather on the plot.

Overall if you can bear the subject matter it’s not a must watch but it is watchable. If future adaptations of the novels are filmed I would check them out.


Dark Heart aka Wagstaffe at IMDB

Dark Heart aired on ITV Encore in November 2016 and was made available On Demand. Check your local listings for current showings.

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