Full disclosure: I haven’t read Sleepyhead, the Mark Billingham book upon which this miniseries was based. I actually have it. Picked it up just last week, before I knew the two Thorne miniseries would be airing this week. It was a fortuitous acquisition, though, and I’m keen to read it after seeing Thorne: Sleepyhead.
Thorne: Sleepyhead and Thorne: Scaredy Cat were shown on the UK’s Sky1 in 2010. But American cable channel Encore is giving Thorne its American premiere this week. Originally miniseries, each installment is being shown on Encore as a single telefilm of slightly over two hours. I just finished watching Sleepyhead, and I was blown away.
At the start, you might be forgiven for thinking that Thorne was another police procedural. Just a grittier Masterpiece Mystery. But it is far more. While I can’t speak for the second installment, Sleepyhead blends hardboiled police procedural with psychological and medical thriller to brilliant effect.
In Sleepyhead, DI Tom Thorne begins on familiar ground: trying to track down a seeming serial murderer. But one of the killer’s victims didn’t die. She survived, but is subsequently afflicted with “locked-in syndrome” and can only move her eyes. Thorne seems all to familiar at the outset, as well. Defiant hardboiled cop, haunted by a case involving a previous killer and dismissive of protocol and propriety in his quest to apprehend the killer.
But here’s where Sleepyhead’s multiple layers become apparent, and everything becomes much more complex. Thorne: Sleepyhead is exquisitely paced, and the suspense is riveting. The acting is top-notch, and Sara Lloyd-Gregory is especially memorable as the locked-in patient. She’s allowed only minimal movement or expression, but the voice-overs poignantly convey her character’s personality shining through the frustration.
Granted the romance between Thorne and Doctor Anne Coburn is more obligatory than organic, and isn’t very convincing. But that’s a minor quibble. DI Thorne spends most of his time as avenging angel, not amourist. And he is compelling in the former role, if not the latter. As Thorne, David Morrissey wears the burden of past cases and current pressures. Alternating between weariness and urgency, Thorne makes us feel the weight on his own shoulders.
I’ll be watching the next installment, Thorne: Scaredy Cat, tomorrow evening. I highly recommend it to you as well, and I’ll post a review after seeing it tomorrow.