Blood in the Snow

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 18, 2005 | Go to article overview

Blood in the Snow


Byline: IMOGEN RIDGWAY

SATURDAY CHOICE Archangel 9.10pm, BBC1 (concludes 9pm, Sunday) IBLAME Simon Schama.

Analysing history was strictly the stuff of enthusiasts until Mr Schama came along, stood in front of some buildings, delivered a monologue and made the subject sexy.

So a drama about an academic on the trail of a unique historical artefact, rather than being some heavy-duty, library-centric offering, is in fact a cracking two-parter packed with intrigue, betrayal, family secrets and powerful underworld figures. Add in flashbacks to the 1950s and your dramatic bases are almost covered.

Plus, Moscow's snow and architecture act as a stunning and unusual backdrop, standing out in television drama's familiar universe of shiny London suburbs, fictitious northern towns and pretend American government departments.

(To be honest, the script and source material help as well: Archangel has been adapted from Robert Harris's novel by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.) Stalin expert Professor Kelso (Daniel Craig, right) is speaking at a conference in Moscow, but he is collared by a stroppy old bloke who tells him he "doesn't know sh*t" about the former Russian leader, and insists on hammering his point home by following the prof back to his hotel.

The old fella, it turns out, was a lackey of former secret police chief Beria (Stalin's hatchet man, in case you missed GCSE history or last week's Timewatch), and was with Beria on the night Stalin died.

Crucially, he was also present when Beria buried some of Stalin's papers.

Of course, even though Kelso is excited about the possible presence of previously undiscovered documents, he never hears the end of the old man's story, because this is television drama and needs a plot, so the bloke disappears off into the Moscow night while Kelso is in the bathroom.

The professor's quest to find where the treasure is buried drags him into a world inhabited by the old fella's daughter, mysterious gentlemen in camelhair coats, an irritating American journalist and, er ... a lessthan-pleasant bloodbath.

Kelso is plainly our hero and this is Russia, but he is no James Bond. Craig gives him a believable arrogance, so while you want him to succeed, you also hope he will be taken down a peg or three. And even though Kelso is an academic, he is dynamic: this is a gripping story of secrets and grudges.

The action hots up as the episode progresses, leaving events poised for a watch-thisinsteadof-David-Jason-on-theother-side conclusion on Sunday.

Unless you are doing your history homework, of course.

Imogen Ridgway

* Another trip to the core of the Big Apple for CSI: NY (9.10pm, Five), and this week's number-one corpse is actually still alive when we start. The bank robber in question is on fire, though; and I don't mean in a he's-on-top-form kind of a way.

* As if those incessant adverts on Radio 5 weren't driving you nuts, here is yet more publicity for the forthcoming revival of legendary sci-fi series Doctor Who. BBC2's Doctor Who "night" (well, Doctor Who Hour and 40 Minutes sounds rubbish) kicks off with another chance to see The Story of Doctor Who (7. …

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