REVIEW: John Simm outstanding in gripping Grace TV debut

John Simm pulls off something pretty remarkable in Sunday night’s first-ever TV adaptation of the first of Peter James’ Brighton-based Roy Grace detective novels.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 6:48 am
Grace

Millions of us have been reading – well, actually devouring – the Grace novels for years, 18 years to be exact.

And yet somehow Simm slips into the Roy Grace role so effortlessly that it feels retrospectively as if it’s been Simm we’ve be reading about all along.

It’s a superb performance in a sparkling adaptation – an achievement all the greater for the fact that the cast and crew alike have managed almost completely to disguise the fact they filmed it in the midst of a pandemic.

As the coronavirus crisis eases and as more episodes are made, let’s hope Brighton itself gets more of a look-in and not just the sweeping offshore shots which characterise this opener.

When this series fully gets into its stride, we really will get the closest thing to Morse since Morse himself, Grace doing for Brighton precisely what Morse did for Oxford all those years ago – the perfect match-up between cop and location.

Brighton must be licking its lips at the thought. Grace might well do wonders for its post-pandemic recovery.

But even with all the restrictions the pandemic placed on filming last autumn, there’s no doubting that Grace gets off to a cracking start – thanks hugely to Simm’s performance.

As the episode begins, Simm’s Grace is in a tough spot, sidelined, his wife missing, his career in the doldrums. Even worse, he finds himself publicly mocked for having sought supernatural help in the cracking of a very earthly crime.

But when he gets his chance, Grace seizes it, pulled into the case of the missing groom-to-be who disappears after a stag night prank appears to go horribly wrong.

The rest of the revellers are killed when their van crashes not long after – oh what larks – they’ve buried the groom in a coffin with the lid screwed down, with just a walkie-talkie for company.

It’s the episode’s only weakness. It’s terribly difficult to believe anyone would drunkenly carry out such a stunt, let alone soberly plan it to the extent of nicking a coffin.

But as things get murkier and murkier, you realise it’s best just to go with the flow: missing social media profiles; dodgy accounts abroad; a wireless enthusiast murdered; a best mate who’s possibly not quite such a mate after all; and a grieving bride-to-be who’s clearly not what she seems.

Grace’s task is to cut through it all – a pleasingly convoluted tale which unravels very pleasingly indeed.

But the big gain here is Grace himself: a great performance with the promise of so much more to come.

Simm nails him, captures a man with his own demons, a decent man and an outstanding cop, a detective prepared to be unconventional – in short, the completely rounded, fascinating character Peter James gives us in the novels.

The second TV adaptation has already been made and is due for screening later this year; the next Grace novel comes out in May. These are treats we all deserve.

And when the series gets the chance to use Brighton more fully, well, it’s just going to get better and better.