Instinct (2007)


UK. 2007.


Director – Terry McDonough, Teleplay – Lizzie Mickery, Producer – Paul Frift, Photography – Ben Smithard, Music – Tim Phillips, Prosthetics – Davy Jones, Production Design – David Butterworth. Production Company – Tightrope North/Ingenious Broadcasting


Anthony Flanagan (DCI Thomas Flynn), Tom Ward (Ian Stanford), Christine Bottomley (Milly), Liam Boyle (Jake Richards), Jaye Griffiths (DS Shakia Barton), Claire Hackett (Sue Richards), Michael Hodgson (Philip Richards), Fiona Glascott (DC Ali Peters), Peter De Jersey (Neil Langley), Paul Ritter (DC Daniel Yelland), Jon Foster (DS Groves)


Police inspector Thomas Flynn is sent to Lancashire to investigate the murder of housewife Megan Stanford. At the same time, Megan’s husband Ian, the owner of a retirement home, is startled by the arrival of nineteen-year-old Jake Richards who claims to be his son, born from when Ian acted as a sperm donor back in the 1980s. The police then arrive to arrest Ian as the chief suspect in Megan’s murder. However, Flynn is forced to release Ian as another victim, a plastic surgeon, is found murdered in similar ways. Other murdered bodies turn up. In all cases, something is left in the victim’s hand that gives the date of the murder. At the same time, while visiting his ailing father in hospital, Thomas is startled to meet Milly, a sister he never knew he had who was born after his father left home. As Thomas starts getting to know Milly, she, Ian and Jake all become wound together in the trail of killings.

Instinct is one of a number of psycho-thrillers that are regularly made for British television. This is an arena that has produced a number of excellent and gripping works – recent shows like Wire in the Blood (2002-8), Cold Blood (2005-6) and Like Father Like Son (2005). Instinct – which should not be confused with the film Instinct (1999), featuring a murderous gorilla-loving Anthony Hopkins – is alas not one of the genre’s standout entries.

Instinct is too quiet and subdued a film to fully work. The script comes from crime fiction writer Lizzie Mickery who also wrote the acclaimed Messiah (2001) mini-series. However, Mickery’s plot seems too laidback at the outset. She never lets it turn with tightly wound twists and jolts but rather spends too much time in the earlier scenes on subplots concerning the murdered woman’s husband Tom Ward discovering he has a son from his sperm donor days and Anthony Flanagan’s meeting with his half-sister (Christine Bottomley). On the plus side, Lizzie Mickery delivers some fine and penetrating dialogue, particularly during the scenes between Anthony Flanagan and his sister. By the middle of the show, things start to get quite interesting – we see Tom Ward, whose wife has just been murdered, seducing the mother of his sperm donor son (Claire Hackett); while Anthony Flanagan becomes obsessed with his sister’s safety to the point of having her surveilled while she is out on an internet date with a stranger. What had started out as normal characters has by this point shifted over into quite dubious grounds and you wonder where it is all heading. Eventually Lizzie Mickery mounts this to a complex plot involving the various suspects and their connections – there is a double-level mirror plot where both the investigating detective and chief suspect discover relatives they never knew about. The only disappointment comes in the revelation of the killer’s identity, which fails to hold any major surprise.

One of the great pluses of Instinct is Anthony Flanagan in the lead role as the investigating detective. Flanagan is an actor who has always lurked around British film and television in various guest roles and bit parts but has rarely stepped to the fore. Here he takes the lead role with quite a degree of effectiveness. Flanagan has a watery boyish face – he initially seems someone too quiet and lacking in internal strength. However, he surprises, showing a cool, fierce intellectual strength in particular when he first pieces together that Tom Ward might be the killer. At the same time, you can see that he is keeping himself tightly emotionally bound and toiling with inner control. Also very good is Tom Ward who plays the part of the suspected husband with handsome charm.

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