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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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Tenby beach on Manic’s new album cover

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THE MANIC STREET PREACHERS have used a image of Tenby’s South Beach – which features views of Caldey Island on the cover of their up and coming album cover.

The Welsh bands new album The Ultra Vivid Lament is due to be released on September 3.

Bassist and Lyricist Nicky Wire has owned a property in the seaside town for the last 15 years.

The image shows Wire standing on the shore looking out to Caldey Island.

Nicky has also been part of the art scene in the picturesque town when he showcased an art exhibit at Tenby Museum and Art Gallery in September 2018.

Speaking on Tenby Nicky said: ““I think Tenby is unique, and I’ve been to loads of seaside towns. It’s kind of self-contained, still working – you can go to an art gallery, have a great cappuccino, an amazing bag of chips, and just wander around on the beach,” he remarked.

“Having a place down here has been more than inspirational – it has inspired a lot of my lyrics, especially ‘Postcard from a Young Man’ – that album in particular.

“I remember my first trip to Tenby vividly when I was about seven to ten – the shops were still open at night, and we had a fantastic bag of chips and played cricket on the beach!

“The first thing that hits you is the harbour itself – it is truly picturesque. You have South Beach, North Beach, the view to Caldey – the town itself incased by the original Castle walls – a fantastic Georgian terrace, all the blue plaques for Augustus John, Gwen John, Nina Hamnett, Beatrix Potter, and the museum itself – everything a man could need!

“For me it’s just the stillness of it – the minute I get down here, everything just slows down.

“It’s a very historical and artistic town, and makes me a bit of a better person when I’m down here,”

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BAFTA winner Sir Anthony Hopkins visits St. Davids

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CELEBRATING his BAFTA win, Sir Anthony Hopkins has been vaccinated and returned to his native country of Wales where he visited St. Davids.

The Hannibal Lecter actor, 83, from Port Talbot, won the best actor BAFTA for The Father, a film about a man battling dementia.

The actor, who normally resides in Los Angeles, is holidaying in Wales and posted a picture to his Twitter account from St Davids shortly before his BAFTA win.

Choosing not to appear virtually at the ceremony, he did speak to the press shortly after when he talked about remaining in Wales until the Oscars take place later this month.

Hopkins told journalists: “We are taking a long vacation, we’ve been in a lockdown and it’s been a tough year for everyone so we took a holiday and we had our vaccinations.

“So we’re in Wales having a quiet time and are very grateful to everyone so that is where we will be.”

Hopkins went on to say that he is still acting because it ‘keeps me out of trouble’, adding:

“I don’t want to sound heavy about it but it’s the only thing I know how to do.

“I keep it simple. I love it. It’s a great life. And to be able to express things, I try not to take myself too seriously, I hope I don’t.”

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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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