Martin Clunes, known for playing Doc Martin, becomes a detective in ITV’s “Manhunt.”
Martin Clunes, known for playing Doc Martin, becomes a detective in ITV’s “Manhunt.”
NEW YORK (CNS) — Having played the dyspeptic, idiosyncratic, yet oddly endearing Doc Martin on the eponymous hit ITV and PBS program for eight seasons, Martin Clunes takes on a very different persona in the fact-based crime procedural miniseries "Manhunt."

When the show first aired on ITV — an independent, British, free-to-air network — in January it achieved that channel's highest ratings for a new program since it premiered "Broadchurch" in 2013. Clunes' popularity and the U.K. audience's familiarity with the actual cases on which "Manhunt" is based may, in part, explain the impressive numbers.

Still, when "Manhunt" begins streaming on Acorn Monday, March 11, North American viewers will likely show equal enthusiasm for this uncommonly thoughtful and admirably restrained series.

Based on retired London Metropolitan Police detective Colin Sutton's memoir, and created by him and writer Ed Whitmore, "Manhunt" opens with the discovery of a body on Twickenham Green in a southwestern suburb of the British capital in August 2004. The corpse is that of 22-year-old French exchange student Amelie Delagrange.

Sutton (Clunes) is at home with his wife, Louise (Claudie Blakley), when he learns he will become the senior investigating officer on the case. Louise, herself a detective with the County of Surrey's police department, is thrilled for her husband. "A lead," she says, "this is what you've been waiting for for ages."

Sutton, nonetheless, doubts his ability to seize the opportunity. His boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Murphy (Peter Forbes), lacks full confidence in Sutton, and impatiently demands results his subordinate isn't ready to produce.

As for Sutton's junior colleagues, especially the impulsive Detective Inspector Chris Saunders (Jay Taylor), they're skeptical of his old-fashioned methods. "You've drunk the Kool-Aid," Saunders tells Sutton's most loyal supporter, Detective Sgt. Jo Brunt (Katie Lyons).

Even Louise urges her stubbornly resistant husband to incorporate new technology into his investigation. A "matrix," which would more efficiently develop of a profile of the suspected killer's "habitat, routine and education," she believes, would help.

The case increases the already existing tension between the couple. Wanting them to have a more balanced life and a deeper connection, Louise is understandably angry when her husband forsakes their trip to attend a family wedding in Spain to pursue a new lead.

Things become even more fraught when Sutton links Amelie's murder to an old case of Louise's, the killing of Milly Dowler. Louise was removed from her position as lead investigator into Dowler's demise because she was suspected of sharing confidential information about the case with her husband. "I've been demoted," Louise complains, "and all you can think of is yourself."

Even as Sutton alienates himself from his wife, he gains the trust of his team. At his urging, they painstakingly catalog thousands of white vans, which may be connected to the crimes, pore over many hours of surveillance video and cull through reams of cash-register receipts. As a result, they begin to close in on their man.

The dialogue includes some coarse language, though this seldom feels gratuitous. Similarly, descriptions of violent crime, including rape, are integral to the story. But such actions are not portrayed on screen.

Unlike too many programs of this kind, which brutalize viewers with lurid and graphic recreations of awful crimes, "Manhunt" spares its audience such sights. And, since most officers in London still don't carry guns, not a single shot is ever fired. Nor is there any portrayal of sexual activity or nudity.

Thus, based on the debut episode available for review, the show is suitable for mature adolescents as well as adults — provided those in either age group aren't put off by its inherently gritty subject matter.

Viewers will appreciate Sutton's "slow and steady" approach, which engenders a new esprit de corps among the officers — who feel good, understandably, about eventually achieving justice. This first installment doesn't, however, have an entirely happy ending.

Acknowledging that investigators missed a crucial piece of evidence that could have enabled them to catch the killer before he attacked Amelie, Sutton travels to France to ask forgiveness from her parents, Jean-Francois (Stephane Cornicard) and Dominique (Michele Belgrand). It's a scene that further sets "Manhunt" apart from the typical programs of the genre.

Far from attacking Sutton with recriminations, Jean-Francois expresses the couple's resignation and acceptance when he says, "We are where we are. It has happened, and we cannot change the past." With remarkable magnanimity, the grieving parents then invite Sutton to break bread with them.

Affirming the best of the human spirit amid the worst of human behavior, "Manhunt" is that rarity, a TV series that successfully ennobles the ordinary.