To Catch A Killer
10-17 November 1999

'Extremely Dangerous' puts its mark on a classic setup.

The production team can protest as much as they like, but the plot of 'Extremely Dangerous' is certain to put you in mind of 'The Fugitive', So they might as well swallow the comparison and have done with it. The main character has, after all, been wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and child, and is on the run, determined to find the real killer. Luckily, that's where the similarity with Dr Kimble ends. Layered over the bones of this classic scenario, there turns out to be a careful and compelling study of personal desperation and corporate evil, which buttresses its lofty ambitions with suitably sturdy production values.

A strong cast, too. It's led by Sean Bean, an actor still best known for the formulaic 'Sharpe' series, who must have been waiting desperately for a juicy part like this to come his way. He plays Neil Byrne, formerly a secret agent and mob infiltrator, latterly an inmate of HM Prison, and more recently a Manchester minicab driver with a fake ID and a stolen car. Juliet Aubrey plays the only female character, Annie, a key figure in the crime syndicate Byrne has been investigating, while Ralph Brown plays her lover Connor, an evidently nasty piece of work, who is determined to nail Byrne before the police have a chance to track him down. Meanwhile, in a cameo part, the charismatic Nitin Ganatra (pictured with Bean (i.e. he is the mysterious man with the black moustache!)) manages to walk away with large chunks of the scenery.

Tonight's opening episode has a lot of work to do in establishing the basics of a very complicated set-up and laying down the ground rules that will govern future twists and turns, but it's all well handled by Sallie Aprahamian, a BBC alumnus whose varied track record on 'EastEnders', 'This Life' and 'The Lakes' has given her the confidence to build spontaneity and edginess around the prevailing moody atmosphere of Murray Smith's script.

It's rather disconcerting when you realise all this quality is being beamed out by the trashmeisters at ITV. After an hour, you feel like you've experienced a whole film, and there are still three more episodes to come. 'I wanted to make a TV feature rather than a cinematic feature because I'd like my first venture as a producer to be seen by as wide an audience as possible', say co-producer Michael Foster, who brought the project to fruition through North West One, and who also moonlights as a managing director of content at Carlton. 'And, oddly enough, it's easier to gain an audience of 10 million people watching TV than it is to get them in cinemas."

Lisa Mullen

November 11, 1999

Dangerous thriller is extremely hip

Extremely Dangerous is not a typical ITV thriller. It has a hip atmosphere and almost every character is a wit, a cynic or a philosopher. Sean Bean is the classic fugitive, apparently framed for a violent crime. Corny screen drama tradition meant we simply had to see him jump from a speeding train. Now he is out to find out who set him up - cue tasty fight scene with a bent cop. All stylishly done, mind.
Thursday, November 11, ITV

November 12, 1999

(article follows on from piece on multiple personality)

Neil Byrne (Sean Bean) had a similar problem in Extremely Dangerous, ITV's new four-part thriller. Wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and daughter, he escapes and confronts the detective who put him away. The crime was so appalling that he has blotted it out, he is told. Like many violent criminals, he is "in denial". Aaargh!

Extremely Dangerous is like one of those dishes where they throw in a bit of everything, but still end up with something tasty. It started with a chunk of escape from a speeding train. This was like a spicy sausage in a Moroccan couscous, not the main interest, but an exciting extra titbit.

The dominant flavour, the chicken in the paella, as it were, came from the fact that our hero has been falsely accused of murdering his wife. If that sounds like The Fugitive, it is. Perhaps it is an homage, if not an homard.

Then we tasted the homely carrots of organised criminals infiltrating local authority planning departments. An obstinate city surveyor "accidentally" falling off the roof of a high-rise building provided a dash of Worcester sauce.

Familiar seasoning was provided by the fact that Byrne has been disowned by the shadowy government agency for whom he was working undercover, the whole stew laced with the Tabasco of a mysterious codebook. Doubtless Byrne is the "fallguy" for some high-level corruption and must expose the truth.

But what the heck. There's no such thing as a new story. This may have been a pot-au-feu, but it was very well prepared. The direction was tense, spare and menacing and avoided the pretentious stylisation which is so fashionable these days. The dialogue felt convincing and the script was gritty without actually trying to rub grit in your face. Sean Bean had the same air of resentfully moral machismo which he has in everything, which was perfect for the part. Tony Booth was surprisingly compelling as a gangster, and very menacing. I certainly wouldn't want to mess with his daughter, for example.

Bean's character is the kind of guy who knows how to remove handcuffs, dismantle a lavatory window on a speeding train and jump out unhurt. But would he be resourceful enough to survive if the train was speeding through the Costa Rican rainforest?

(article goes on to a piece about the rainforest)

November 12, 1999

One way and another, last night's television was a pretty macho affair - and I don't just mean the return of 'They Think It's All Over. Take Neil Byrne (Sean Bean), the protagonist of Extremely Dangerous, a new four-part thriller from ITV. When we first saw him, he was smoking and winning at cards with the two guards transferring him by rail to a Scottish prison to continue his life sentence for murder. Not for long, though. Within minutes of nipping to the toilet, Byrne had doffed his handcuffs and chains with a speed that would have impressed Houdini, silently removed a large section of the carriage wall and leapt from the speeding train. He then got up, shook his head and walked to freedom.

For a while, he concentrated on stealing clothes wherever he went, thereby ensuring we knew: a) that Neil Byrne is a master of disguise; and b) that Sean Bean looks cool in anything. Eventually, he pitched up in Manchester where he had a score or two to settle - and where Extremely Dangerous really began to take off. Its portrait of the city's low-life is, I suspect, intended to be no more literally true than Minder's was of Eighties London or Damon Runyon's of prohibition New York. (Byrne's new pseudonym, tellingly, is Spanish John - also that of a Runyon character.) Nonetheless, if contemporary Manchester isn't the way we saw it last night, it somehow should be. The landlady of Byrne's suitably seedy digs, for example, introduced herself as "Mrs Edith Ramsay, once a barmaid, a plaything of actors and travelling salesmen - now a traffic warden's widow". His boss at the taxi firm is a young Asian man who reads The Oxford Book of English Humour and effortlessly steals every scene he's in with his deadpan one-liners.

The more standard thriller elements, meanwhile, are less inspired - but still efficient. Byrne, we've learned, was an undercover MI5 agent who infiltrated the local organised-crime scene. He now wants to find out who killed his wife and and daughter and then set him up for the crime. Presumably we already know more or less what will happen over the next three weeks (he will succeed, exposing corruption on both sides of the law) - but an encouraging first episode suggested we'll have a classy ride getting there.

November 12, 1999
Tony Purnell

Sean Bean makes a great action man. He is just right for the role of undercover agent and convicted killer Neil Byrne in Extremely Dangerous (ITV).

He escaped from a speeding train in the opening minutes of the four-part thriller.

"There is always a hint of danger with Byrne" said one of the two prison officers who had been guarding him on the London to Glasgow express.

He was speaking after the horse, or rather the pony-tailed prisoner, had bolted. Both screws must have done their training with Officer McKay at Slade Prison since they failed to smell a rat when he kept asking to go to the toilet.

On the fourth visit he not only managed to remove the restraining chain he was attached to but also his handcuffs and the window of the WC.

Byrne went on the run to prove his innocence and find out who really killed his wife and daughter, but the programme makers insist any similarity to Dr Richard Kimble in the Fugitive is purely coincidental. Within hours, resourceful Byrne had changed his appearance, gone on a thieving spree and got himself digs and a job as a minicab driver.

He visited gangland pals and broke into his old MI5 office where he discovered his file was marked 'Permanently Abandoned'.

I won't abandon him. It's exciting stuff. But I don't care what they say, I'm going to keep an eye open for a one-armed man.

November 12, 1999
Simon Edge

Cherie Booth's dad, Tony, is a mischievous old leftie, and if a programme includes him in its cast, you can bet your bottom euro there will be a crack about the PM in the script. In Extremely Dangerous (ITV), a passenger wanted to know why the London to Glasgow express was closed off. "Is it someone important like the Prime Minister", he asked. "No," replied the guard, "it's just the most dangerous man in Britain," which could have meant the same thing but didn't.

Sean Bean, as top security prisoner Neil Byrne, wasn't on the train for long. Saying he needed the lav (yes, that old trick), he managed to unscrew an entire window panel, which I bet you never realised was possible. He then tumbled out into the Scottish Borders and grabbed a change of clothes from an unsuspecting farmer who had rashly left his door unlocked. It could have been the very farmhouse where Robert Donat ran into Flora Robson in The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Extremely Dangerous is more Edge of Darkness than Hitchcock, though. With another three episodes to go, it is too early to know what really led to the brutal slaughter of Byrne's wife and daughter, for which he received two life sentences. We have a fair idea he didn't do it - someone who can give himself such an immaculate haircut in a public toilet, with the door jammed with a Durex machine, is clearly too sensitive to be a murderer.

We have also learned that Byrne was some kind of undercover agent who has been 'permanently abandoned' according to his computer file, by his government employers. But surprise twists are all the rage these days, so you never can tell. Even Byrne didn't seem sure he was innocent by the closing credits.

There was plenty of 'cough and you'll miss it' dialogue, and the plot steamed along faster than the Glasgow night train. But writer Murray Smith punctuated the opening episode with lighter moments and with generously outfitted incidental characters.

"Does this mean you're not going to take me to Sainsbury's?" asked the prison governor's wife when the phone rang with the news of Byrne's escape. The cab operator, who whiled away the night reading what appeared to be the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, was a nice touch, as was the landlady with a heart of granite. "They call me a heartless Hannah round 'ere, but if yer ever want to borrow a cup of sugar I'm just downstairs," she barked. "Thanks," said Byrne. "You've got four minutes left on yer meter before it runs out, and no cooking in t'room," she added.

We didn't get much of Tony Booth last night. The man we will always remember as Alf Garnett's 'Scouse Git' now plays a gangster godfather. Teddy-bear features notwithstanding, you get the impression that 'till death us do part' might be sooner than you expected if you upset him. Let's hope we see more of the First Father-in-Law as the gang, which seemed to have more factions than a New Labour cabinet, decides what to do about Byrne.

Ultimately, the success or failure of Extremely Dangerous depends on Mr Bean (no, not that one). He needs to provide enough menace to make us think he is at least slightly dangerous, while looking confused and human enough for us to care. Fortunately, tough 'n' tender is right up Sean's street, and he gives us just the right amount of vulnerability with a touch of pyschosis. I'm hooked.

November 12, 1999
Adam Sweeting

Mr Bean's big adventure

How much tougher can Sean "Rockfist" Bean get? Bean attacks every role like a human canonball and splatters its guts over the furniture. He hisses out his dialogue as if he were sliding a knife between its ribs. Even if he does something as mundane as reading a newspaper, he does it as if he were hiding a bazooka under his raincoat.

Who better, then, to head the cast of Extremely Dangerous, ITV's new four-part thriller. Bean plays Neil Byrne, a convicted murderer serving two life-sentences for slaughtering his wife and four year-old daughter. In the opening sequence, Byrne escaped from the train which was transferring him to a prison in Peterhead by diving through the lavatory window and hurling himself down an embankment when the train had slowed to a negligible 40 mph. Then he stomped off into the night, leaving the embankment to nurse its bruises.

Byrne is on a mission to prove his innocence and hunt down the people who framed him. We haven't been told what Byrne used to do for a living yet, but he's adept at changing his appearance and his identity, skilled in unarmed combat and handy at hacking into computers. Implausibly, while the police and teams of ruthless gangsters combed Greater Manchester looking for him, Byrne stole a car and took a job as a cab-driver with the world's most squalid minicab company. As the laconic Pakistani cab-operator warned him, "don't tell me any secrets, pal - then you might have to kill me".

The other characters were mere ciphers, lining up in front of Byrne like ducks in a fairground shooting gallery. Is it poppycock? Of course, but now that the vengeful Bean has been turned loose, you want to see where he ends up. He's like a clock-work killing machine, coated with granite and teflon.

November 14, 1999
Brian Viner

Sean Bean looked similarly comfortable playing an escaped convict in Extremely Dangerous (ITV). For once, he does not have to conceal the tattoo on his shoulder, which pledges his undying devotion to Sheffield United and was deemed superfluous when he played Mellors in Lady Chatterley, not to mention Esau in Sky's serialisation of the Old Testament. Anyway, in this four-part thriller, Bean plays a man convicted of killing his wife and daughter. Needless to say, he didn't dunnit. And has just three episodes to prove his innocence. This is a pretty tall order, seeing as it took David Janssen four years in The Fugitive, which had an eerily similar plot.

In the opening sequence, while being transferred by train from one prison to another, Bean escaped, becoming a runner Bean. He was duly described on the news as one of Britain's most dangerous criminals, which made it hard to understand why he was sent the length of the country in the custody of two warders as intimidating as Little and Large. But it doesn't do to scrutinise events too carefully in thrillers like Extremely Dangerous. You can drive yourself potty. For instance, Bean pinched a waxed jacket and a flat cap from a farmhouse, then nipped into a public lavatory to hack his long hair off with a pair of nail scissors. As if by magic, he emerged seconds later with a beautifully layered haircut, looking not unlike Nigel Havers. In fact my wife entered the room at this point and asked whether Dangerfield had moved to Thursdays.

Anyway, Bean wound up in Manchester (which was also, incidentally, the setting for Queer as Folk and Cold Feet, and is evidently turning into the new London), needing employment. In our house we were baying for him to exploit his uncommon talent and become a hairdresser. But in an awful slab of publicity for minicab firms, he sailed through a four-second interview. Mind you, when I think of some of the minicab drivers I have encountered, four seconds may count as an unusually intensive grilling. Whatever, the situation was now set up for an exciting Bean stalk, as he tracked down his old gangland associates to discover who set him up.

Extremely Dangerous is pacy and well-acted, so there are things to admire as well as ridicule, with Juliet Aubrey, playing a smouldering gangster's moll partial to lacy lingerie, falling into both categories.

November 21, 1999
John Russell

Sean Bean developed the skill of Spiderman as cops and robbers failed to catch him in the wonderfully silly Extremely Dangerous. But the chase is still great fun. No-one has been that elusive in Manchester since George Best left.

17-24 November 1999

This intelligent production of a complex and edgy story by Murray Smith has the confidence to linger over establishing both its plot and characters. Sean Bean proves he's not just a pretty face with a performance to match the talent around him - Juliet Aubrey, Tony Booth and a scene-stealing Nitin Ganatra - and in episode two finds himself (as wronged man on the run Neil Byrne) trying to find out who set him up for the murder of his wife and child and why.(EP)

December 3 1999
Paul Hoggart

Farewell to double-crossing and double parking

Two of ITV's more ambitious series ended last night, one with a bang, the other with a bit of a whimper. Extremely Dangerous was the kind of thriller described as "dark" and "chilling" because it hinges around vicious and excessive crimes, in this case the murder and mutilation of a woman and her young daughter with a butcher's boning knife. This four-parter also played on our lurking JFK-type paranoia.

Ruthless government agencies and organised crime collude, we suspect, to exercise a corrupt, amoral control of public life.

Ranged against the forces of darkness were an honest plod (Alex Norton), short, stout and balding in the manner of The Fast Show's "Fat Sweaty Coppers", an Asian mini-cab controller with a heart of gold and Sean Bean as the tough but basically decent killing machine Sean Bean usually plays.

he series began as an homage to The Fugitive, with Bean's hero, Neil Byrne, escaping from a moving train in order to clear himself of the double murder. By the end, however, it had turned into a convoluted three-way hunt, with Byrne after the real killers, the police after him and the villains hoping to mix him into the foundations of a new motorway extension.

Everything hinged on which way Annie (Juliet Aubrey), the nastiest gangster's moll and Byrne's lover, would turn. Discovering that he has double-crossed him, Annie's gangster boyfriend Joe (Ralph Brown) kills her father. He and Annie meet over the coffin. "What should I do with a woman who shares my bed, but betrays me to my enemies?" he whispers in her ear, in a scene reminiscent of a Jacobean revenge tragedy.

As in revenge tragedy, the stage ended up strewn with corpses, except that this time they were all villains. (You have to make some concessions to modern audiences.) Otherwise Extremely Dangerous was extremely slick and extremely violent.

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