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Desperate Measures, review: Amanda Abbington is too good for this fag-packet thriller

A frankly implausible plot and sketchily drawn supporting characters let this bank-job drama down, despite Abbington's best efforts

Not exactly a banker: Amanda Abbington as Rowan in Channel 5 thriller Desperate Measures CREDIT: Channel 5

Would you rob a bank if your child’s life depended on it? That’s the “elevator pitch” for pacey thriller Desperate Measures (Channel 5). It’s a grabby enough premise, though executed weakly. That title was always tempting fate. Desperate Dramas, more like.

Amanda Abbington plays bank cashier Rowan, a single mother whose 15-year-old son, Finn (Jesse Cescatti-McFarlane), is drawn into a botched drug deal by an old school friend. Thanks a bunch, pal. When the police swooped, Finn fled, dumping a bag containing £25,000 as he ran. Gangsters demanded payback in full, so Rowan frantically sought for a way to find the money. She’ll soon resort to masterminding a heist on her own workplace. I suppose it’s one way to claw back bankers’ bonuses.

Thrillers often require the suspension of disbelief, but this one was eye-rollingly implausible. Rowan’s day from hell began when she headed off happily to her annual staff appraisal meeting and was blindsided by being made redundant. Then came her infuriatingly naïve son’s confession of the fine mess he’d got himself into. When Rowan tried to sell her mother’s antique diamond ring and the family laptop to raise some cash, lo and behold, the pawn shop was raided by armed robbers. Talk about a rotten run of luck. Well, until Rowan recognised one of the masked thieves as her ex. What are the chances? No, really, what are they?

The script was generic and workmanlike. We began with that increasingly tiresome narrative device in TV drama – opening the story on a high-stakes scene, in this case Rowan’s police interrogation, before flashing back to show how things got to this point, while Finn’s friend seemed to have wandered in from Peaky Blinders( albeit with the odd “bro” or “fam” thrown in to signify urban youth). “When debts don’t get paid, people die,” simpered supposedly ruthless gangster Kristof (Gábor Nagypál), perhaps the least scary crime kingpin you’ll see on-screen all year. Even the expositional text messages we glimpsed were all in uppercase and unconvincing. The twisting plot was built to hook but I didn’t believe it for a second.

Abbington, however, delivered a strong, nuanced performance: wry, warm, steely yet sympathetic. She was left to do all the heavy lifting by a supporting cast whose characters were sketchily drawn. Warren Brown played a facsimile of his bad boyfriend from Trigger Point. This opening episode ended with Finn being kidnapped – if not quite in broad daylight, then at least in a well-lit location covered with CCTV cameras.

The four-parter is stripped across the schedules, airing nightly until Friday’s finale. No spoilers, naturally, but the ending is a satisfying if slightly daft one. It’s the beginning and middle which let this schlocky series down. When you jot your plot on the back of a fag packet, the trouble is it’s just as throwaway.


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