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Nolton Hill Estate, where’s that?

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THE first episode of new ITV drama ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’, based around the investigation into the crimes of John Cooper, aired tonight and left some scratching their heads.
It’s correct that there are no local housing estates called ‘Nolton Hill’, however production companies tend to stay away from publishing something that might make it easier to identify the victims of sexual assaults.
By changing the name of the estate associated with the crime, the writers ensured they could tell the details of what took place, without infringing the rights of the victims anonymity.
Had the correct name been used in the drama, it could have narrowed down a location and timeframe thereby placing the victims and their families at a greater risk of identification by people not already aware who they are.

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The Pembrokeshire Murders: Episode 3 review

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TONIGHT, Wednesday January 13, sees the third and final part of The Pembrokeshire Murders air.

From the opening scene, it’s clear that Wilkins needs to act fast to cage Cooper.

Pat’s death is described as natural from the get-go, but theories will no doubt talk about how ‘Cooper must have done it’. He didn’t.

Her passing weighs heavily on Wilkins’ shoulders, you see that when he breaks the news to Andrew and it could be argued that her passing gives the team that extra bit of energy to finally see Cooper caged for his crimes.
11 minutes into the final part, Wilkins gets his ‘Golden Nugget’, Peter Dixon’s blood is found on John’s bathers after the hem is unpicked, they also find a hair from the Dixon’s daughter.

They’ve got him.

Luke Evans’ restrained joy boils over as he gleefully tells the DNA expert that he bloody loves her and that moment of relief is palpable for Wilkins who can now see the end in sight.
Within 120 seconds, we see Cooper collared by police for his crimes and literally dragged off kicking, screaming and swearing as his scheming is finally brought to an end, although it wasn’t filmed in Letterston where it took place in reality.

Caroline Berry as Pat Cooper (L) and Oliver Ryan as Andrew Cooper (R)

The scene where they find Cooper has tooled himself back up to, we assume, kill again, felt a tad unbelievable, a stretch too far even.
I didn’t particularly enjoy how stupid it made the cunning, clever Cooper seem when the race had already been run and I wasn’t entirely sure it served much of a purpose besides showing us how close the writers think Cooper was to killing again. I didn’t believe this scene was based on fact, until I got told by a friend that it was! I couldn’t believe Cooper didn’t know when to call it a day, unless by that point he genuinely felt he had nothing to lose.

It does however set up the face-off between Wilkins and Cooper that we’ve been waiting for 2 days to see.
The battle of the fathers takes place with Wilkins barely saying a word for the first few questions, but his triumphant gaze at Cooper, who now clings to his ‘ask Adrian’ defence, tells you everything you need to know about the calmness of Wilkins character and Luke Evans, again, plays this scene subtley, Allen’s Cooper though is rebellious to the end.
The victims of the Nolton Hill Estate attack get their chance at closure, their dreadful experiences have been somewhat under-mentioned so it felt rewarding to see a human reaction to part of Cooper’s crimes that are easily overshadowed by the double murders, but shouldn’t be forgotten.
As we hurtle towards the end, we see Wilkins steeling Andrew Cooper up to testify at John’s trial by video-link in a scene that, once again, shows the two standout actors of this production at their very best.
A non-threatening but righteous Wilkins coaxes Andrew into doing the right thing in a touching scene where Andrew finally gets the support he’s been lacking, only this support comes from the Police, not his family as he so dearly craved.

Cooper trips himself up in spectacular fashion during the trial as he’s forced to either admit lying to the court previously, or lying to the court now.
That moment, for me, secured his conviction as he’s finally left speechless and, to be honest, a tad pathetic.
Allen nails Cooper’s outburst as he’s taken down and that anger kicks in as he swears at the judge and finally disappears from view to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The Pembrokeshire Murders ends with Wilkins’ son deciding to become a Policeman like his dad and the battle of the fathers is over.
Andrew Cooper hated his dad and wanted to be nothing like him, Steve Wilkins son ends up deciding to be more like his father so Steve Wilkins wins the day. Bravo!

‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ is a story we’ve seen on countless cop shows for years. A cold case, a disgruntled cop with a chequered past is brought in to find the truth, through the course of the story he discovers the truth and in doing so mends himself and the lives of those around him.
It’s nothing special.
Until you factor in the true story elements, the superb performances and, to be frank, the local setting. If this was called ‘The Lancashire Murders’ I dare say that maybe I wouldn’t be as forgiving with the misfires as I am with this.

A great adaptation of a meaty story that does what it can with a story seen a thousand times before, the performances of Luke Evans, Keith Allen, Alexandria Riley, Oliver Ryan and Caroline Berry bring real heart and soul and set this apart from the rest. 4/5

Check out this weeks Herald where we’ll be taking another look at a confusing local double murder some say bares all the hallmarks of John Cooper….

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The Pembrokeshire Murders: Episode 2 review

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TONIGHT, Tuesday January 12, sees the second episode of ITV’s 3-part adaptation of ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’.
Episode 1 set the scene, it introduced you to all the characters, the situation and the sheer scale of the task ahead for Operation Ottawa.
Episode 2 picks up straight away, the news report seems to have rattled Keith Allen’s John Cooper who must sense that the net is closing in on him as he spends a lot of his time in the prison library reading up on DNA technologies used in criminal investigations.
Again we’re seeing that Cooper is as clever as he is manipulative and is still trying to scheme and plot his way out of trouble, even as he’s brought out of prison to be questioned by the team in Ammanford.

Operation Ottawa: the team that cracked the case in the new ITV drama

In many ways Episode 2 feels like John Cooper’s episode, obviously he’s the focus of all 3, but he’s a much bigger part of this episode and you truly get the sense of his slyness, his clear intellect and him acting purely out of self interest as his parole date nears.
After calling Andrew ‘dead to us’ in Episode 1, Episode 2 see’s John getting Pat to contact their son as John struggles to explain those pesky khaki shorts.
As mother and son are reunited, all hope Andrew had of being able to help his mum…sorry, ‘mam’ are instantly washed away as Pat keeps on questioning Andrew about those shorts. It’s clear to Andrew that Pat is still singing from John Cooper’s hymn sheet and getting Andrew over wasn’t for a touching reunion, it wasn’t just for tea and toast with jam, it was because John Cooper said so.
Oliver Ryan’s chat with his mum is a powerful scene, you begin to really see how much it’s messed up Andrew and how alone he truly is without his family, mainly his mum. But Pat is too involved, too wound up in Cooper’s lies to walk away, even with John Cooper expected home imminently. Oliver Ryan’s performance in this scene alone is one of the most powerful scenes in the entire series and deserves a special mention for another great acting performance in a series chocked full of them.
Elsewhere in the episode, Operation Ottawa are closer to Cooper than ever before but are no closer to proving his guilt as they burn through the budget re-testing items from Operation Huntsman.
Keith Allen’s chillingly cold performance, especially as he throws his son under-the-bus, is captivating to watch, his accent continues to waiver but just ignore it, what you’re seeing here is an animal penned in, Cooper is running out of moves to make so painting his son as the villain is the only way he can continue to try and squirm out of the grip of justice.
Alexandria Riley’s ballsy Ella Richards inspires the anger in Cooper that we’ve all heard so much about. Cooper may not appreciate female intellect, but that short-sighted, ridiculous way of thinking is so very nearly his undoing. You see that rage build as she confronts him and that encounter alone left me feeling that Cooper was ready to snap at any time especially when Richards presents him with another pair of glasses. Truly chilling stuff from Allen.
Luke Evans meeting with Andrew Cooper is another perfect scene that starts to build the trust between Andrew and Wilkins. Inch perfect again from both of them, Andrew clearly starts to see that the only way to help his mum is to help the police cage John Cooper for good. But how?
As the episode nears its end, a chance pint in The Kings Arms changes everything and we get to see how Bullseye factors into the story for the first time. That coupled with the very last scene leaves the stakes high and time running out as we head into the third and final part of this adaptation with John Cooper free.
Another solid episode elevated above your run-of-the-mill police dramas by superb acting, a great story and stellar pacing that sets up the last part perfectly. 4/5

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The Pembrokeshire Murders: Episode 1 review

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TONIGHT, Monday January 11, sees the first episode in ITV’s adaptation of ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’.
A slick ITV production from the opening shot, ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ is a story that I’m surprised it’s taken this long to see dramatised.
Luke Evans cuts a stoic figure as SIO Steve Wilkins, trying to find his way back into his old life after returning from London and into the life of his son whilst investigating John Cooper, Wilkins’ story serves as a great opposite to the father-son struggle we get a sense of taking place between John and Andrew Cooper.
Evans gives a physical presence and a single mindedness to Wilkins that, without doubt, helped him convict Cooper but also threatened to derail his attempts to put things back together with his son. Evans plays Wilkins as vulnerable but strong, masculine but not toxic, solitary but a great team-player, distant but involved enough to keep his team motivated when the going gets tough. It’s a layered performance that steers clear enough of cop show stereotypes whilst, over the course of the series, embracing nearly all of them in a fresh way.
‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ doesn’t hang about, it isn’t long before Wilkins is putting together a team under the code name of Operation Ottawa to investigate Coopers’ links to the Scoveston Park, Coastal Path and Nolton Hill Estate crimes.

Operation Ottawa: the team that cracked the case in the new ITV drama

First on Wilkins’ list is DI Ella Richards, Alexandria Riley does a great job bringing some heart and concern to a character that so easily could’ve become lost along the way. Richards was clearly emotionally affected by the Nolton Hill events and even admits to keeping tabs on the victims 10 years later. It’s little moments like that that elevate this drama above a mere cop show, that kind of professional concern feels very Pembrokeshire and Riley’s performance instantly makes Richards feel like the beating emotional heart of Operation Ottawa.
The insights we have into the life of Andrew Cooper, expertly portrayed by Oliver Ryan, help keeps the drama grounded. From seeing him struggle with his shopping to wincing in pain during physiotherapy, Andrew Cooper is portrayed as a physically and emotionally fragile man struggling to get by having been shunned by both of his parents.
It was quite clear that the Nolton Hill parts of this episode were filmed in Swansea but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment and was done to provide as much protection for the victims and their families as possible, so you can’t really complain about that choice of location change.
Caroline Berry’s Pat Cooper gets our sympathy from one of her first scenes as she berated by her husband when visiting him in prison. A subtle turn from Berry, her Pat is a nervous, fraught figure clearly struggling with the idea that John Cooper will soon be out on parole but someone so caught up or lost in Cooper’s web of lies that there simply isn’t a way out. It’s easy to forget that Pat was a victim of Cooper as well as an accomplice in silence, but never once does Berry’s Pat feel like a bad person, she’s simply between a rock and a hard place.

Caroline Berry as Pat Cooper (L) and Oliver Ryan as Andrew Cooper (R)

John Cooper himself is played by an in-his-element Keith Allen. He plays Cooper as a restrained, powder keg of pent-up aggression just waiting for someone to light his fuse. His Cooper plays mind games, manipulates and controls, even from behind bars.
Allen it seems is having so much fun portraying John Cooper that sometimes his regular accent grins through his assumed South Pembrokeshire-twang but not for long and so much of Allen’s John Cooper is communicated through the eyes that it’s easy not to notice those momentary lapses and when he gets the accent spot on, it’s chilling.
A solid start to ITV’s three part adaptation, ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ plot will only thicken from here. What could’ve been an empty police procedural drama is elevated by great performances all around and seeing Luke Evans driving across the Cleddau Bridge was a very cool image to remind us all exactly how local these horrendous crimes were. 4/5

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