TV's newest detective confronts death and his feelings amid the bleak scenery of the Pennines.
TV's newest detective confronts death and his feelings amid the bleak scenery of the Pennines.

TX - Instinct
Broadcaster: ITV1
Producer: Tightrope
Start: 9pm, Monday 26 Feb
Length: 2 x 90 minutes
Commissioning editor: Nick Elliott

The beautiful yet bleak countryside of the Lancashire Pennines was both the inspiration and setting for ITV's latest crime thriller, Instinct. The location inspired more than just the story, however - it dictated the look and feel of the production and also how it was shot.

'The Lancashire Pennines is an extraordinarily beautiful place but not in a picturesque sense - it's raw,' Instinct'sYorkshire-born creator, writer and executive producer, Lizzie Mickery, explains. 'I love the sense you get of humanity clinging to nature, and nature occasionally winning. And the fact that the back doors of many houses open onto, well, just moor. It's a landscape you don't often see on TV.'

The plot revolves around young, high-flier DCI Thomas Flynn (played by Anthony Flanagan) and his investigation into a series of grisly murders, and Ian Stanford (played by Tom Ward), the husband of the first victim. As each victim's body is found, attention switches to new suspects. But as the investigation progresses, Flynn and Stanford's lives become inextricably linked.

The story came from an idea Mickery mentioned in passing to ITV drama controller Nick Elliott during a meeting he'd scheduled with Instinct'sproducer, Tightrope, to discuss forthcoming ideas.

'The starting point was a desire to create a detective younger than those central to other TV thrillers. There are fantastic actors such as Ken Stott and David Jason playing complex and intriguing detectives, but we don't often look at younger characters. I thought it would be interesting to focus on someone who had risen fast through the ranks but who was still young and emotionally vulnerable, as opposed to hard-bitten.'

All of the attributes that make Flynn a good detective make him weak as a man - such as his ability to cut himself off from his emotions in order to view things clinically. But as events develop in his personal life - his father, who walked out on him when he was a child, is in hospital and he meets his half sister and nephew for the first time - it becomes increasingly difficult for him to suppress his feelings.

That sense of someone struggling to keep things together is underlined by the setting, says director Terry McDonough, and it is a characteristic common to both the leading men.

'There's a stillness to the landscape that empowers the story and removes the drama from the standard inner city or police precinct setting,' he explains. 'The sense of openness and expanse you get there made the characters in the story seem more exposed and vulnerable.'

For this reason, many of the location shots open with a 90-degree top angle view from a 200ft high crane.

'We wanted to show the expanse of the backdrop, and compound the isolation and vulnerability of the characters faced with a violent killer on the loose,' he adds. 'I also often like to shoot with something just visible in the foreground to give a feel of voyeurism.'

In many scenes, Mickery's script emphasised looks and unspoken communication over direct dialogue, and that inevitably dictated the scene's mood and tone. The production team's approach was therefore to focus on what was not being said as much as the spoken word.

The brief to composer Tim Phillips was similarly understated. 'We wanted music that was simple, elegant but never bigger than what would be seen on screen,' McDonough says. 'What he gave us works beautifully - creeping up from behind the audience. It's the glue that holds everything together.'

The production team was also eager to confound expectations - shooting the action on Super 16 film instead of high definition and in late summer rather than bleak mid-winter. They also teamed up with director of photography Ben Smith, whose background is in commercials production, to achieve a slick, almost glossy-looking quality rather than the gritty feel familiar from many other crime dramas.

'He lit it very naturally, but we worked hard to achieve a polished look rather than the grainier, grittier feel you get with some other dramas,' McDonough says. 'We hoped this would bring in a younger audience to whom the character of Flynn would clearly appeal without losing the core ITV audience likely to be watching at this time.'

As with some of her previous work - she also wrote Messiah- Mickery's script contained its fair share of grisly crime scene details. For these, the production team adopted a less is more approach, cutting sequences so that the most disturbing details are left to the viewer's imagination or revealed by a look on another character's face.

In one sequence, a female character is suspended by rope high above a canal then slowly drowned as the killer closes the lock gates. A stunt double was used for much of this sequence - part of which was filmed on location while underwater action was recreated in a special tank built for the production in a Manchester warehouse.

Another actor, however, didn't get off quite so lightly. 'While there are tricks and shortcuts you can use, more often than not you just can't beat doing it for real,' Mickery laughs. 'Which is why one actor was required to lie still with his face smeared with jam - it was the only way to get the maggots to stay on.'

Instinctis Mickery's first collaboration with production company Tightrope - 'I'd felt for a while I wanted to work with Hilary [Bevan Jones, Tightrope's co-founder],' - she says. She is currently working on another idea with the company. 'I think DCI Flynn has huge potential to return,' Mickery confides. 'We'll just have to wait and see.'

Writer/exec producer:Lizzie Mickery
Director:Terry McDonough
Producer:Paul Frift
Executive producers:Paul Abbott, Hilary, Bevan Jones
Head of development and script executive:Catriona McKenzie
Associate producer:Keith Halsall
Director of photography:Ben Smith
Production designer:David Butterworth
Editor:Crispin Green
Composer:Tim Phillips
Costume designer:Diana Moseley
Casting directors:Doreen Jones, Liz Vincent-Fernie