Van Der Valk review: ITV’s Amsterdam-set sleuth remake is woefully miscast
The Dutch capital is captured here in all its tawdry beauty, but plot contrivances and a distracting lead make this Seventies re-hash a hard sell
I’m not sure what ITV wanted from its (sort-of) new crime series, Van Der Valk. Some of the audience will remember the first series from 1972 with some fondness. The instrumental theme tune (“Eye Level”) was an unlikely chart hit, a European-set detective show was then a very welcome novelty and Amsterdam looked fun as well as dangerous. Most of all, it had Barry Foster, an underrated actor, who made the role of Van der Valk his own – smart, charismatic, grumpy. Foster “was” Commissaris Simon “Piet” Van der Valk, just as Telly Savalas “was” Kojak, and Peter Falk “was” Columbo. For us, I think, it might have been better to leave it alone. For those whose parents weren’t even born in 1972, the new show must be even more puzzling.
Even if we set aside the nostalgia factor, much of this failure must be down to a woeful casting for the lead. Marc Warren is a fine actor, and there’s nothing wrong with his VdV except that he just doesn’t fit. For one thing, although Warren is actually 53, and old enough to play VdV, he looks far younger, he dresses too young and he acts too young to be a convincing Commissaris.
He also has the misfortune (often remarked) to be the spit of Malcolm McDowell in his prime. This is too distracting, and I half expected old VDV to go a bit “Clockwork Orange” at times. Actually he did, by sleeping with an even younger prime suspect, which didn’t seem right. They’ve also made VdV live on some sort of Dutch sloop, and he keeps a retired sniffer dog in his office as a pet – just eccentricities for eccentricity’s sake.
More unpromising still is the scripting. Here, for example, we are expected to believe that a coffee shop waitress conspires with a couple of neo Nazis in the brutal kidnap of a young man in order to destroy the career of the leader of the Dutch Labour Party. Their bungling also results in the murder of two witnesses.
The abducted young man turns out to be the secret illegitimate son of the politician and one former lover of his. The revelation of his existence would obviously ruin the potential prime minister’s election campaign (though maybe not so much these days...). The plotting waitress, Eva (Stephanie Leonidas), is another spurned lover, but what she wants from the politician and why she does it is not entirely clear.
Eva goes to such lengths because she hates the man who once used and betrayed her (fair enough); but also because she despises the other woman, Therese (Vineeta Rishi), mother of the kidnapped lad, because “she put up with second best” (ridiculous). The dialogue just cannot keep up with such a contrived tale. It falls to Rishi to deliver the undeliverable line: “I have one of son’s fingers in the freezer”, presumably in among some stockpiled pizzas. An hour and a half of this really asking too much of any viewer, even in lock down.
Amsterdam retains its photogenic character and its tawdry charms, and the direction is stylish – Low Countries-noir at times, you might say. They even kept elements of the old theme over the credits. It’s not enough though. If this is a success, then Marc Warren’s a Dutchman.