Judge Brett Cullum joins kinky British detectives to solve a murder that has libido intertwined with menace. Whip me, beat me, call me Miss Marple!
Love and fetish. Sex and murder.
Let's face it, British television is far kinkier than the United States could ever hope to be. Don't believe me? Check out creator Kay Mellor's (Coronation Street) latest hour long drama, Strictly Confidential from the UK's ITV. On public television she's offering peeks in to sex therapy, swingers clubs, s&m practices, bisexuals, auto-erotic asphyxiation, and every perversion you could imagine—and some you won't see coming. Somehow, though, the British always manage to make even the most sordid saucy tale seem like an episode of Masterpiece Theatre, and that's because they never compromise acting or the script simply for the sake of titillation. Strictly Confidential: The Complete Series offers the entire six-episode run unedited so Americans can marvel at how much skin the English get served on broadcast television mixed in with an intelligent drama that doesn't shy away from hard questions.
Facts of the Case
Linda (Suranne Jones, Coronation Street) is a sex therapist who used to be a cop. She is called in to consult on a case by her ex-lover, Angie (Eva Pope, Bad Girls), because the case involves a rare fetish of strangulation at climax. When another body surfaces with auto-erotic asphyxiation as the suggested cause, the murder hits a little too close to home. The victim is a client of Linda's, and her husband is implicated through cell phone records and video at the hotel where she died. The investigation will force Linda to examine sex clubs and a slew of her own patients who may have ties to the dead girl, who had a voracious sexual appetite. Add to the mix Linda's own problems conceiving a child with her husband, and suddenly sex seems more dangerous than ever.
Strictly Confidential takes a little while to build steam even though it opens with a racy sex scene implying this is going to be a fast wild ride. It takes almost three episodes out of six to really get rolling, but once it does put all the plot pieces in place, it coasts along nicely. Until the mystery ramps up, the show highlights the sex therapy cases and uses them as dramatic counterpoints and comic relief throughout. The nice thing is there is a relaxed atmosphere with all of the sexual material; it reminds me of the controversial film Shortbus turned into a television series. It's near impossible to ever imagine Americans doing that with NC-17 material, but here the British show us exactly how to take scandalous elements and weave them in to a respectable mystery drama. What most US viewers would see as almost pornographic, Strictly Confidential treats as just another background for a serpentine tale full of human conflict. Sex is treated as no big deal, even if it penetrates every corner of the story. There's almost a clinical attitude toward the most outrageous of practices, and the series has been praised for waving off what most producers would try to exploit.
Don't get the impression it is one continuous orgy. Strictly Confidential does indeed have a rich story to present under all the flesh. Suranne Jones does a great job in the lead role, and her male costars Cristian Solimeno (Footballers' Wives) and Tristan Gemmill (EastEnders) support her very well. Everyone is given a well fleshed-out character to play, and each has enough turns to make the journey interesting. There are three layers to the series: the professional sex therapy cases, the salacious murder, and the mundane personal problems of marriage. At first we believe these three worlds will remain well-defined and exist apart from each other, but as the mystery deepens, the lines blur. Each element begins to mix with the other, and the through line becomes well-established.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Koch Vision delivers Strictly Confidential: The Complete Series without much other than an okay transfer and a nice behind the scenes featurette. The video presentation is clean enough, but the darkly lit interiors reveal an ever present wash of grain coupled with an overall lack of clarity. Perhaps most damning in this context is that flesh tones can sometimes be off ever so slightly. The audio track is a well-appointed stereo, and it delivers things clearly enough with nice separation on the music selections. One thing that bothered me was a lack of subtitles, because the English accents are thick enough that at times I had a hard time muddling through what was being said. There is a nice behind-the-scenes featurette that was produced by the network to promote the series. It includes all the major players discussing the challenges of working on such a sexy show and how they faced the prospect of disrobing for their scenes.
It's a kinky murder mystery with the right mix of skin and drama, simultaneously racy and thought-provoking. Amazing to consider Strictly Confidential made it on to the BBC airwaves when parts of it rival the censored bits of Eyes Wide Shut. The mystery is well-constructed, but even more so, it is amazing how sex is treated. We see the act as celebratory, violent, funny, twisted, innocent, and every permutation it affords in real life. Mostly what Strictly Confidential achieves is the very human idea that sexuality is just part of our natural landscape, and when it is placed too prominently by guilt or obsession it can be deadly. The series says you need to get over your hang-ups, or they may very well be the end of you. True to most BBC productions, the acting is reserved and believable no matter how wild the situations get. It's a highbrow version of Silk Stalkings with a bit more going on both upstairs and below the belt. Fans of erotic mystery would do well to check this one out, and it certainly is a prime example of how compelling the genre can be.
Guilty of being a striking series that mixes a killer mystery with the
ultimate of life's questions—just how much trouble can sex get you
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• Strictly Confidential: Behind the Scenes
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