Police procedural dramas are 10-a-penny these days, but something about ‘Marcella’ set it apart from the rest when it arrived on ITV in 2016.
With its serial killer plot, haunting score and highly stylised visuals, ‘Marcella’ soon became one of the channel’s highest-rated new dramas in recent years. This was largely thanks to creator Hans Rosendeldt, who brought his Nordic Noir magic to the UK after achieving international acclaim with ‘The Bridge’.
The crime noir drama is now returning for a second series, with Anna Friel back as as our anti-hero DS Marcella Backland, and viewers will be wondering what became of her, given a number of blackouts suggested she may have been a killer herself.
Fans will remember how evidence she’d moved the body of her husband’s murdered lover was also revealed to her boss, DI Tim Williamson, and while plenty of questions about Marcella are carried over into the new series, we’ve been warned not to expect answers just yet.
“It’s like a jigsaw,” Rav Panthaki, who plays DI Rav Sangha, tells HuffPost UK. “There’s all these pieces when Hans first starts, and then he walks away with this whole masterpiece. It’s so thoroughly thought through and intricate with twists and turns, and red herrings, but it will all make sense.
“The audience will come away satisfied with what happened.”
The action picks up around six months on from the end of the first series, with Marcella and her team now working on a new case. She’s now in a proper relationship with DI Williamson - but this union could be the key to unlocking some of her secrets.
“Tim has a lot of power over her because he does know her secret - or at least part of it, so he can ensure her career destruction at any moment,” actor Jamie Bamber, who plays Tim, explains. “By covering it up, she also has something on him, so there is that mutually assured destruction.
“He’s very ambitious and his career is very important to him, and for Marcella, her work is therapy, so people like that need each other.”
Series two will also see Marcella’s blackouts further explored, as she finally seeks help, although she will remain firmly under suspicion as the new case unravels.
“That’s what makes this show interesting and unique is that you’re investigating the protagonist as well,” Jamie says.
“Marcella is mixed up in her own way because she’s investigating herself, but she’s in denial. In the first series, she refuses to investigate herself. What’s positive is that in the first episode, she starts to do some work on who she might be and who she is.
“She’s a wonderfully complicated character but the most unreliable witness of the lot.”
The ‘Marcella’ cast on...
Whether Marcella and Jason could reunite:
Nicholas: “I think they’re still in love. You see from the first episode, there is still something between these two people. They’re more than just parents to a couple of kids. They’re bonded in a way, and that gets explored all the way through. Even if it’s not obvious, it’s there.”
Approaching the topic of mental health responsibly:
Jamie: “What we’re doing is putting the protagonist - who is usually reliable - we’re problematising her and it’s her mental health that’s the staple of the show. I think Scandi Noir is when you have someone putting the world right who is actually not right themselves. ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ was the same.
Working on series one without knowing who the killer was:
Ray: “When we were doing the scenes working the case out, but we were in real life too. We’d be sitting in the green room talking through theories and debating who it could be. I got it completely wrong and thought Laura had something to do with it. This time around, I was spot on.”
Jamie: “I predicted the series one conclusion but then I changed to someone else. If only I’d have stuck with it!”
A possibility of series three:
Ray: “I’d love there to be. I think there is scope - not saying too much - but it’s all determined by the response to it.”
The case the team find themselves investigating is typically dark, and begins when the body of a school boy is found inside a wall.
A devastated Marcella soon works out that the body is that of her son’s friend, Leo Priestley, who was abducted a few years beforehand.
As a result, her son Edward is thrust into the story, with a seemingly dark side beginning to emerge. Could he have a hidden side, like his mother?
Nicholas Pinnock, who plays Marcella’s ex-husband Jason, hints the young character could be one to watch as the series develops, explaining: “He’s a 12-year-old boy finding himself and discovering the world, and part of that is the knock-on effect of his parents splitting up, of him finding out his friend was lost and then found dead, and it will have a reaction. And he does react...”
Themes of child sex abuse, paedophilia and child homicide are central to the plot, and Ray admits there are some “emotional” and difficult scenes ahead in coming episodes.
While producers are not deliberately courting controversy with them, the cast are hoping the sensitive nature of the series will help spark important conversations.
“In some ways I’d be disappointed if it didn’t [cause controversy] because it means the social consciousness isn’t there,” Jamie says. “If themes and elements like this don’t cause people to react, we’re not doing our jobs. If we don’t challenge an audience’s’ perception, we’ve failed.”
However, it is the ‘whodunnit?’ aspect of the show they are really hoping captures the public’s imagination - just as did the first time around, when social media was abuzz with questions and theories (some plausible, others much less so).
“You never know how people are going to react to something, but to receive the buzz the first series caused is a joy and makes it even more joyous to come back and do the second one, knowing people are waiting for it,” Ray says.
But, as is always the case with ‘Marcella’, armchair detectives should be wary of red herrings, as we’ve been warned to expect plenty in the new episodes.
Even the cast admit they sometimes have trouble keeping up with the plotline, with Jamie saying: “I know people get confused by ‘Marcella’ as there’s a lot of characters and a lot of names, but it’s not just the audience who get confused - we do too.
“You’ll notice there’s a lot of cop shop scenes where we are re-stating names to pictures. But have faith! There’s a lot of noise and each story is worthy of following, but if you’re confused, don’t worry about it and let your eyes focus beyond. It will all pop and be wonderfully clear.”
We’ll be holding him to that.
‘Marcella’ returns to ITV on Monday 19 February at 9pm. The complete first series is available to watch now on Netflix.