Great tv begins and ends with great writing and on the basis of the first two episodes Manhunt, Monica Beletsky’s script delivers and then some.

It would have been easy to deliver a historical drama by numbers wholly predictable but that’s not Manhunt. Rather this show manages to give a fresh and diverse point of view on a historical event we all know about. Firstly, Manhunt is told from the point of view of Edward Stanton (Tobias Menzies), the Secretary of War, best friend of Abraham Lincoln and, as Mrs Lincoln (Lili Taylor) tells him, his work wife. Secondly, Manhunt manages to show what’s at stake: Edward Stanton is not just leading the hunt to catch his friend’s murderer but, also ensure the fragile and fledging union that we all now know as the USA is not lost.

It’s easy to view the assassination of President Lincoln in isolation but what Manhunt does well is to show each character’s motivation and the impact this act has on their lives. There are mercifully no filler characters, everyone matters.  For the slave girl Mary Simms (Lovie Simone), the new union will mean her freedom. The doctor who owns her and wants to preserve the status quo. The humanity displayed never feels glib or forced.  It feels of its time and yet disarmingly modern – when Mrs Lincoln tells Stanton: ” how could you let this happen to your work wife”, we all recognise the term – each of us has a work wife or husband.

What this script does is avoid the melodrama and cliches as well as the temptation to start inserting social commentary. A story well told allows an audience to identify the key issues. It’s not overly dialogue heavy and it allows the actors to act. The costume and set design is incredible as is the cinematography – lighting in historical dramas is notoriously bad but not here.

The entire cast is excellent but special mention to Tobias Menzies who manages to breathe life and make Stanton not just multifaceted but also a very modern man. This is done as much in the delivery of the lines as well as the physicality employed.  Also, Anthony Boyle is most certainly one to watch as the feckless John Wilkes Booth who is solely concerned with his fame and doesn’t give a toss about politics. Also, Lovie Simone who I have enjoyed watching since Greenleaf, again a name to look out for.

Manhunt does that rare feat of us all knowing the end but it’s taking us on an unseen journey to get there. The stakes felt high then and, this show is a reminder that we need to ensure those hard fought for wins are maintained.

New episodes of Manhunt are released every Friday on Apple TV.


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