Screens: BBC One

Scotland Reminds Us All Why We Didn't Love The '80s

Al Lowe rides the Wheel of Murder down the contentious alleys of Glasgow with The Field Of Blood.

Ah, summer, when adventurous travelers seek new experiences among the world’s most beautiful landmarks. London! Tokyo! The blood-spattered tulip fields of Holland! The crapulent evidence lockers of Milan! Uh, what? Before you go, check with Al Lowe as she TV-travels the globe to investigate how murder gets done on an international scale.

The Show The Field of Blood, based on the great Paddy Meehan series of books by Denise Mina. It is currently streaming on Acorn.TV and, if you don't mind what appear to be Chinese subtitles, an episode or two is also available on YouTube. The BBC doesn't seem too arsed by this, possibly because the show was broadcast in 2011 and 2013, but you can watch the whole thing on Acorn and I highly recommend you do. The two sets of two one-hour episodes make it possible to watch it over two nights, in fact, though you will surely cry when you realize there's one more Paddy book left unfilmed and I can find no mention of plans to do it. More's the pity, because it's great.

The Formula Paddy, like our girls Dicte and Annika Bengtzon, is a reporter and thus fraternizes daily with your various newsroom scumbags and bums, all of whom are perfectly represented here from the curmudgeonly drunk old-timers to the burnt-out but upstanding managing editor. What sets this story apart and makes it so eminently watchable is Paddy. First of all, she's at the very start of her career and, in 1980s Glasgow, her ambition to even have a career, much less one in the ultimate boys' club, is both rare and dangerous, indeed, particularly considering the entirely separate but equally difficult formula of her home life: an ultra-Catholic Irish mom and a hardworking dad who is nonetheless two steps from the dole at all times, as most Scots were at the time.

"[Location] Was Like Another Character" Because this is a period piece (cry with me that the 1980s now qualify as "period"), they have to work around the modern streets of Glasgow, and use interiors to really bring the grit of 1982. It was such an industrial, heavy time in the UK, and everything here is in line with that, from the oppressive fashions ("What are you wearing to the Simple Minds show, me hen?" "Oh, a shirt, a sweater, a vest, a coat, two belts, nine bracelets, tights, pants and a skirt!") to Paddy's blunt bangs falling constantly in her eyes, to the vague awareness that none of these people have ever been truly warm in their lives.

Those Subtitles, Tho If you can get Acorn's subtitles to work, I so very highly recommend you turn them on. I know it's the English language, but at times it's as thick as Glaswegian stew. I don't understand why Es are sometimes As, y'all, but they are, and I love it. NO other accent in the world sounds more meaningful when spoken in confrontation and, as you can imagine, the good people in The Field Of Blood are pretty much in confrontation with themselves and each other every minute of the day.


What's Best About It? Paddy. I adore her. Her loyalty to her family, her desperation to be a journalist -- a weaker character would become trapped in this triangulation, but she keeps going forward despite a river of bullshit chasing her from morning 'til night. Her internal integrity just will not allow her to lie to herself, and it's agony to see her navigate the minefield of the political climate and increasingly sensationalist journalism of the time. In addition, she WILL NOT hesitate to give as good or better than she gets, even if it comes to fisticuffs. She's not hard -- it's scrappiness born of necessity and determination, and if you cross her, I hope you enjoy the trip your head is about to make to the swirling bowl of the bog.

Second best are the newsroom fellas, all of whom are in competition to seem more cynical than the last. When I tell you that the crew includes the genius Peter Capaldi and David Morrissey, I'm sure you'll be in, but the cherry on top is Ford Kiernan, who plays Paddy's reluctant mentor, McVie. Their partnership is a thing of grouchy beauty and the biggest reason I wish we'd get to see the third Paddy book brought to the screen.


What's Worst About It? Worst is seeing Paddy (in the first series, especially) continually hassled for being plain and, more harshly, "fat," which Jayd Johnson, who plays her, is not. I mean, it's bad enough that this is something the character has to deal with, but the extra seven pounds the actress is carrying around hardly qualifies her for the nonstop abuse being heaped on Paddy when she is concurrently being sexually harassed and dealing with ageism, classism, slut-shaming and every other hassle young women have ever had to deal with. It's hard to watch. But: Paddy has her straight-ahead gaze on lock, and though her ambition gets her into some truly boneheaded snares, it's also what saves her and I love her for it.

Whatever Shall I Serve? As you know, Scotland is home of both delicious and disgusting foods. Haggis…if you've never smelled it, do everything you can to avoid that nasal onslaught. Read it and weep: "Authentic haggis is a ground-up mixture of boiled sheep's lungs, heart and liver or other organs combined with oats, onions, suet and spices and stuffed into a stomach. The stomach is sewn shut and boiled before serving." Oh, the stomach is sewn shut? THANKS. I mean, BOILED SHEEP LUNGS WHAT? No. Instead, I encourage you to pretend you are in the press bar, throw down some sausage rolls, and raise a glass of Glengoyne to the bonnie land.


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