Chewing Over the Drama
The Irish Times, 15 January 1995
Sadlyu, there's only one more episode of 'Zen' , the BBC’s quality adaptation of Michael Dibdin’s best-selling crime thrillers. It’s a bit of europudding that took some getting used to in the first episode.
Set in Rome, it features the English actor Rufus Sewell as detective Aurelio Zen, the Dubliner Stanley Townsend as his boss, English actors as all his colleagues in his Roma police station and Italians as his mother and his love interest. Every time a new character appeared it was distracting to wonder whether they’d be speaking in a Yorkshire burr or with an irresistible Italian accent.
By episode two all that confusion was set aside: it helps that you can’t but be dazzled at every turn by the visual treats that are Sewell, with his sharp-suited nonchalance, his mesmerisingly gorgeous lover, Tania (ex-Bond girl Caterina Murino), and the crumbling backstreets of Rome.
This week’s intricate multilayered plot was pure Dibdin: to solve a murder, Zen, the only honest cop in the force (as we are repeatedly told), must fight corruption, and, as ever, it is when corruption is on the inside, in the police and in government, that it’s most difficult to tackle.
A man jumped, or more likely in Zen’s view was pushed, into the Tiber, and Zen uncovers a web of intrigue involving a government minister, a sinister robed church figure, a mysterious cabal and a doomed love affair. And he still finds time to drink endless little cups of espresso and woo the girl. It says a lot for Sewell’s screen magnetism that his Zen is devastatingly attractive even though he still lives with his mammy. Her first words this week were, “I see everything.” Even an ex-Bond girl would find that challenging.