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'Dark Heart' is Gloomy yet Intriguing
November 7, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Dark Heart is also a dark television program.

Besides telling an engaging, if often grim, story, it provides further proof that there are apparently an infinite number of variations on the troubled TV cop.

Dark Heart, which becomes available Wednesday on the streaming service BritBox, stars Tom Riley as Will Wagstaffe, a London detective whose parents were murdered 17 years ago when he was 16.

He apparently got over it enough to become a detective and a good one. He did not get over his rage and frustration at the fact the case was never solved. While he has developed a calm and controlled façade over the years, we soon see that he’s given to random bursts of violence, verbal and physical.

All that anger has to bubble up somewhere.

You can probably wager safely that one of the ongoing themes in Dark Heart will be Will always looking or at least hoping for clues that might warm up the cold case of his parents’ deaths.

His simmering anger may explain why he hasn’t been married and only has a part-time girlfriend, Sylvie (Miranda Raison). She seems to like him and may know him too well to stay too close for too long.

His closest friend may be his older sister Juliette (Charlotte Riley – no relation, by the way), who seems to have been equally traumatized by the loss of their parents.

Juliette has a son, Harry (Joseph Teague), who’s a happy, fun kid in spite of the family history. Since Juliette is divorced, among other things, Will has become Harry’s occasional surrogate Dad. They get along well.  

Juliette and Will get along in spurts. Their sometimes ragged lives frustrate each other, creating a constant backdrop of tension that both recognize isn’t something either one needs.

More to the plotline of Dark Heart, in any event, we meet Will just as he’s catching a murder case that involves gruesome torture.

Explanation, if not absolution, arrives in the form of police reports detailing how the victim had been arrested for sexually abusing his pre-teen daughters two years earlier and released for lack of compelling evidence.

Soon thereafter another child sex abuse suspect – also arrested and released – is found in a similar torture situation. This fellow survived a round with a welder’s torch and is found still alive.

Child sex abuse and the potential appearance of a vigilante who wants suspects to suffer for their crimes creates a good amount of adrenalin in Dark Heart, and Tom Riley plays Will’s part just right.

While he never can completely hide his own wounds, he exudes the reassurance of a professional who is confident in his skills and his decisions.

That doesn’t lighten the world he inhabits or the even nastier world into which this case plunges him. It does juggle skillfully the question of whether there’s a path back from the heart of darkness.

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