DNA (2004)


aka Donovan

UK. 2004.


Director – Simon Delaney, Screenplay – Mike Cullen, Producer – Spencer Campbell, Photography – Niels Johansen, Music – Mark Russell, Production Design – Margaret Coombes. Production Company – Granada Television.


Tom Conti (Joe Donovan), Samantha Bond (Kate Donovan), Malcolm Scates (Michael Kinsey), Ryan Cartwright (Seth Donovan), Indira Varma (Cara Mathis), David Fleeshman (Pete Moss), James Midgley (Bruce Corrigan), Daniel Pape (Paul Sampson)


Joe Donovan is a former forensic detective who has retired and become a best-selling thriller writer. He is called back in when the police find a body murdered in exactly the same way as the one in the controversial case that caused Donovan to quit. Moreover, Donovan’s name has been written at the crime scene in the victim’s blood. The police take on Donovan as a consultant but his DNA is then found at the crime scene. He is certain that this has been planted. At the same time, Donovan suffers from strange mental blackouts during which he is unable to remember what he does and cannot be sure if he did the killing while in this fugue state. He comes out of one of these blackouts to find himself in the flat of a second victim who has been killed in a manner identical to the first. He quickly removes all evidence of his being there. The police then find that both the victims were having an affair with Donovan’s wife. Becoming the police’s number one suspect, Donovan cannot be sure whether he is the killer or whether someone else is trying to implicate him.

This British tv mini-series was a clear attempt to copy the success of the No. 1 hit US tv series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-15) and its various spinoffs and copycats. DNA certainly starts out with a promising premise that immediately captivates, involving a former forensic investigator finding a crime scene set up exactly like a former case and then his own DNA planted at a scene, followed by the realisation that he is subject to a series of blackouts where he cannot be sure that he himself is not the killer.

The show is directed with a cool style by Simon Delaney. Delaney chooses a colour scheme that places the emphasis on predominating whites – the investigators in their cleansuits, the elegant creams of Tom Conti’s house. There are two very good lead performances from Tom Conti and the greatly underrated British actress Samantha Bond, as well as fine support from a cast of largely unknowns.

Unfortunately, despite a great start, DNA collapses into increasingly far-fetched improbability – planted DNA, fugue states where Tom Conti comes around in the midst of a murder scene and cannot sure if he did it or not, the son capturing crucial evidence on video, the wife having affairs with both the murder victims, a possibly innocent criminal from Conti’s past who may or may not be conducting the new killings out of revenge.

Joe Donovan (Tom Conti) and wife Kate (Samantha Bond) in DNA (2004)
Joe Donovan (Tom Conti) and wife Kate (Samantha Bond)

About the point in the second episode [SPOILER ALERT] where all of this is revealed to be the activity of a jealous detective who is planting the evidence to incriminate Tom Conti because he desires Samantha Bond for himself, the entire house of cards comes tumbling down. This revelation comes far too early in the story – it should have been a last minute twist. Moreover, one can see how contrived it is as the moment this twist comes all the other red herrings – the wife’s affairs with the victims, Tom Conti’s fugue states, the suspect from the past – drop off and are forgotten about.

However, the improbabilities keep increasing – Tom Conti making a ridiculous return from the dead after seemingly being banged on the head and dumped in a reservoir, whereupon he and an assistant investigator team up to taunt and implicate the guilty party by planting evidence. Unfortunately, plot devices like these, which belong to the classic psychological thriller, jar when introduced to the much more realistic form of the forensic thriller. The forensic thriller and its focus on the minutiae of evidence and behavioural psychology has made the improbably contorted plots of the psycho-thriller a thing of the past.

By the end, when the killer is finally apprehended, the plot has becomes so contorted that any case that might have emerged would have been thrown out of court – first of all, the police have allowed a civilian to trample all over the crime scene, and secondly not one but three different forensic investigators have all been planting and falsifying evidence in order to implicate one another.

DNA was later expanded out into a tv series Donovan (2005), which consisted of three episodes only that were 90 minutes apiece. These featured return performances from Tom Conti and Samantha Bond, although these were standard crime dramas featuring Tom Conti as an investigator and his blackouts were written out.

Trailer here

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