Whilst I may not have had the greatest success with Francis Durbridge’s novels, I did have fond memories of watching A Game of Murder (1966) on DVD a couple of years ago. So I decided to get my hands on a few more Durbridge dramas and I’m glad that I did. It has definitely helped me to conclude that Durbridge plots are far better watched than read and I also think the characters come across a lot better as well. To begin my Durbridge viewing I decided to look at the two Breakaway dramas, the latter being a sequel to the former. Both feature a fairly young Martin Jarvis in the lead role and have the tell-tale Durbridge structure of ending episodes on a cliff hanger.
Breakaway: The Family Affair
Budding children’s author Sam Harvey’s planned breakaway from his former life as a Detective Superintendent is thrown into turmoil when, as he hands in his notice, he learns of his parent’s inexplicable and brutal murder. Harvey’s bid to fathom out the murderous puzzle presents him with mysterious packages, some extraordinary information from legal and journalist sources, threatening telephone calls and three strange numbers in a personal address book which brings about two shootings and a further murder. As victim and investigator, can Sam Harvey find an answer to the riddle of the family affair?
Watching this series brought back a lot of memories of A Game of Murder, as in many ways they share a lot of similar tropes. They both have the theme of parents dying and their deaths revealing some fairly shady behaviour on their part. We also of course have the witnesses who say one thing and then go back on what they said and don’t forget the use of wrong and fake names. Equally there is femme fatale of sorts, or rather both dramas have a woman who is part of the criminal enterprise, but only to a small extent, which invariably means she is redeemable, once she’s been attacked first of course. There is also a mysterious figurehead behind the criminal goings on, whose identity is never revealed until the final episode and there is also the hint of potential police corruption. However despite this multitude of similarities I do promise you they have different plots! Though you could probably generate a fairly lethal drinking game out of both of them…
Although well out of the golden age period, I think overall this series is a rather clever whodunit in its own way, with the viewer being well provided with alibi information and clues. Durbridge has a skill for creating a plausible criminal network, as well as a plethora of red herring suspicious characters. He deftly uses the least likely and most unexpected person trope and you really do have to mistrust everybody, even seemingly innocent shop keepers! Having the central sleuthing character be the son of the victim(s) in both this series and A Game of Murder, is also in a strength in my opinion, as the urgency and passion to see the case through is that much more evident. I wouldn’t say this series was as good as A Game of Murder though, primarily because of the cliff hangers. In the earlier drama they were more varied, whilst I felt they were more repetitive in this one. However this one is definitely still worth a watch and the series overall is only 3 hours long so it is easy to binge watch in an afternoon.
Breakaway: The Local Affair
Detective Superintendent Sam Harvey’s plans to retire and write children’s stories were unexpectedly scotched after the terrible murder of his parents. Having solved that harrowing crime, he now finds himself reluctantly drawn into a seemingly routine local affair in Market Cross. When a body is discovered in the woods, the case is clouded when witnesses offer conflicting accounts. What is the significance of the set of keys found near the body? To whom does the gloved hand belong? To trap a killer and thwart a $200,000 blackmail plot, Harvey must resort to some dubious methods.
So whilst with the first series, The Family Affair, I seem to have generated a Durbridge drama formula almost, in this next series, I am somewhat chucking most of it out of the window! There are no misbehaving parents to become the victims, as this time the primary victim is a young woman. Don’t get me wrong there are still plenty of shifty characters and witnesses going back on what they said, but in this series the focus is much more on just one central suspect. This does mean that Harvey takes a back seat role in the earlier episodes, before going back to the fore front in the final ones. Blackmail is a keen aspect of the plot and a further murder certainly complicates the central mystery. Yet I would say this sequel does not live up to the first series. There are fewer people involved in the criminal aspects of the mystery and there are some characters which I felt were underused and generally we don’t get to know many of the characters very well. Harvey’s role also has less impact, though that is understandable given there is less personal urgency in solving the case. Finally there is also the capture of the lead criminal, which I think let the last episode down, as it was a bit too ludicrous. I’d therefore recommend this series a bit less than the other one.
Not sure when I’ll tackle more Durbridge dramas or which one I will pick next, but the remaining series in the boxset I bought are: Bat Out of Hell (1966), with a bonus episode of Paul Temple on the same disc, The Passenger (1971) and The Doll (1975).