The Pembrokeshire Murders
- Brian Donaldson
- 11 January 2021
Steady but too sober three-parter about a Welsh murderer facing true justice
Larry David once helped a man escape death row when it became clear that the accused was unwittingly part of a crowd scene in Curb Your Enthusiasm at the exact same time the murder was being committed. While there's no record of Jim Bowen taking the stand during John Cooper's trial, the latter's 1989 appearance on Bullseye proved to be pivotal in helping the prosecution piece together their case against him.
Directed by Marc Evans, The Pembrokeshire Murders is the epitome of solid, steady and stable viewing, arguably reaching so far to be respectful towards the victims and their families (an increasing and perfectly understandable staple of modern TV crime drama) that the energy has been drained from it. The action starts in 2006 with Dyfed-Powys police reopening two unsolved murder cases they believe are connected to Cooper (played with an edgy menace by Keith Allen). At that point, he is possibly weeks away from parole, having been sentenced to 16 years for robbery. Having left the area for a spell to work in London, returning local hero DS Steve Wilkins (Luke Evans whose form here is the aforementioned mix of solid, steady and stable) is hellbent on proving that Cooper is more than just a violent burglar, and if released is likely to kill again.
As the investigation cranks up a gear, the police analyse fresh DNA evidence as well as weighing up the importance of Cooper's hair-length at the time and a pair of shorts he may or may not have worn in the days after a brutal double-murder: but both time and resources are running out on them. While the nitty gritty of the investigation and subsequent interrogations of Cooper are prominent, somewhat inevitably there are extended scenes of Wilkins being a good dad (showing up at his lad's football games) or being a not-so-good dad (failing to show up at his lad's football games) as if we needed to be told and shown that this case has become an all-consuming obsession for him.
Shown nightly across a single week (as is ITV's contemporary wont), The Pembrokeshire Murders is unlikely to be remembered in years to come in the same way as David's superlative cringe-com or the late Bowen's popular darts quiz show. Indeed, there are likely to be another half-dozen crime dramas rolling onto that channel before spring is out which may help erase this three-parter from our memories entirely.
ITV, Monday 11–Wednesday 13 January, 9pm.