A Tale of Two Cities, Maybe?

By Ben Felsenburg

If I wasn’t already as bald as an egg, I fear I would be anyway after busily scratching my head watching the opening episode of The City and the City (Friday, BBC2, 9pm). This four-part sci-fi thriller is a big number for the BBC: they’ve enlisted the star power of David Morrissey to play the hero cop, the exotically named Inspector Tyador Borlú – a classic noir gumshoe who, from every pore, exudes the world-weary sense of having seen it all before. As the story gets going, a young woman’s body has been found down at the docks, which is all so ho-hum, you might think, for the starting premise of a crime show, except the setting is two cities which – deep breath – both occupy exactly the same space, if I’ve understood correctly. One is called Beszel, the other Ul Qoma, and the stylish production shimmers with cunning, disorientating little details hidden in the corner of the frame, and carefully fuzzy out-of-focus shots to constantly keep us viewers on our toes. 

Quite what exactly, or even vaguely, it all means, I frankly haven’t got a clue, and I suspect it might help if you’re au fait with those eye-glazing French philosophers who insistently doubt that anything is quite what it seems to be. So there you have it: a must for those fans of David Morrissey, who will relish a truly befuddling puzzle. The book on which it’s based is brilliant, I’m told, but on this evidence, it’s about as filmable as the phone directory.