Bancroft, episode 3, review: the plot jackknifes from merely far-fetched to actively fantastical

Ed Power
Sarah Parish as Elizabeth Bancroft

It has been the year of the deranged melodrama on British television. Recent months have brought us such nostril-flaring delights as Doctor Foster, the break-up caper that desperately wanted to be a mid-Nineties Michael Douglas bonk-fest, and Liar – a saga of magnificent convolutions starring Ioan Gruffudd and Ioan Gruffud’s crazy swivelling eyeballs. 

Now, just in time for Christmas, comes a cracked corker to rule them all. Episodes one and two of Bancroft (ITV) were by turns madly implausible and screamingly derivative (bent copper series The Line of Duty is an especially obvious influence). But part three – the four-hour production is being screened across consecutive nights – was where things were ratcheted up to full, ring-the-bells barking, as Sarah Parish’s eponymous policewoman was unmasked as a dead-eyed psychopath. 

As hinted heavily across the opening two instalments, Detective Inspector Elizabeth Bancroft’s buttoned-down exterior concealed multitudes. We’d already seen her stab to death presumed romantic rival Laura Fraser in flashback (though perhaps it was Laura with whom she was in love). Twenty-seven years later, she was fighting to bury the freshly reopened cold case – in part through blackmailing Fraser’s widowed husband (Linus Roache). This she achieved via a vigorous roll in the mattress (she threatened to present the bruises sustained in the consensual encounter as evidence of dim, besotted Tim forcing himself upon her). 

The other thorn in her midriff was pesky young lady cop Katherine Stevens (Game of Thrones’s Faye Marsay, with an accent so northern it could have graced the cover of a Smiths album). Because it was an ITV drama and everything is required to be complicated as possible, Stevens was naturally in a relationship with Bancroft’s boring son, Joe (Adam Long). 

Linus Roache and Sarah Parish

But that didn’t dissuade the younger officer facing off against Bancroft over her cover up of the Fraser murder. The specific point of contention was her use of a trumped up alibi to remove suspicion from Tim (who being exquisitely doltish, had only just worked out that Bancroft might have been involved in the killing).

When Stevens was confirmed as a threat to her superior, the response was straight from the ITV manual of farfetched twists. Bancroft switched to Killbot Mode, flinging the presumably much fitter junior officer around her fitted kitchen (possibly denting that lovely fridge in the process). Why hadn’t Joe intervened? Wouldn’t the outburst merely demonstrate, beyond question, that Bancroft was capable of murder? Could Parish really toss someone of comparable weight about as though they were woven from candy floss?

Roache in 'Bancroft'

Your enjoyment will have depended on your ability to suspend disbelief. A lot of suspension was required – as the plot jackknifed from merely far-fetched to actively fantastical and all involved got into the spirit by delivering their lines as if putting in a late audition for panto season. Perhaps it’s a backlash against the endless Scandi noir we’ve been sitting through – but this was a police procedural with firewater in its veins and a healthy disrespect for such fuddy conventions as realistic dialogue and a credible storyline. It was, in the best and worst sense, a romp.

The best TV shows of 2017

A subplot involving a drug dealer branching into the arms trade added to the complexity and also the feeling that writers Kate Brooke and Ben Morris (collaborators on Mr Selfridge) were daring one another to throw in as many extraneous components as possible.  The episode ended with Bancroft apparently firebombing the apartment where the wife and daughter of the chief witness in the latter case were hiding. Was there no end to her villainy? Could Bancroft turn any more deranged in Thursday’s denouement? The answer, in both instances you suspect, is a great howling “yes”.