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john doyle

There's a reason why big pharmaceutical companies regularly turn up as villainous corporate monsters in thrillers. They keep doing terrible things and while some are found out and fined tens of millions of dollars, others continue with their nefarious practices. We are alert to being suspicious.

A big international pharma company is at the centre of the new and first-rate thriller Acceptable Risk (Thursday, SuperChannel, 9 p.m. and streaming on Acorn TV), a six-part mini-series. It's a conspiracy thriller, a co-production between companies in Canada and Ireland, and set in Montreal and Dublin.

The gist is this: A man, Lee Manning (Paul Popowich), a top executive for Gumbiner-Fischer, a giant pharma company, with headquarters in Dublin, is in Montreal for a meeting. He's got a sensitive file he needs to discuss with somebody. He's given a ride from the hotel to the meeting. Hours later, he's found dead on a Montreal street, shot in the head.

He'd called his wife Sarah (Elaine Cassidy) in Dublin just before the car ride to express his love and affection. It is Sarah who becomes the central figure in this slow-burning, complicated thriller. She used to work for Gumbiner-Fischer and, while she knows a lot about the company and some of its dark secrets, she always kept her distance from Lee's ultra-sensitive work and travel. Informed of his death by an Irish police officer, Detective Sergeant Emer Byrne (Angeline Ball, best known outside of Ireland for Mr. Selfridge and The Commitments), she realizes that she actually knows very little about the man she married.

Sinister events then pile up. When Lee's car is being retrieved from Dublin Airport, a local criminal is discovered trying to remove an elaborate tracking device from it. Det. Byrne recognizes the guy as a "purse-snatcher" and wonders why he's meddling in this case. His movements are traced. Why is he having meetings with someone from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, this lowlife thief and drug dealer? In Montreal, the cop handling the murder, one Detective Dusquene (Geordie Johnson), gets a visit from a German official who is very nosy about the matter.

An international conspiracy story seems to be unfolding, but Acceptable Risk spends a lot of time in Dublin. The city is marvellously used – this is very much the contemporary Dublin of dramatic new buildings and vistas in the centre, the squalid outer suburbs and the beautiful homes of the well-off in Wicklow, outside the city. It's not the Tourist Board-Ireland traditionally seen on TV. Sarah Manning's stunning, sleek home in Wicklow is featured a lot. If you admire it, take note that Irish media inform us that it was the actual home of Def Leppard guitarist Rick Savage.

The quietly threatening head of Gumbiner-Fischer, Hans Werner Hoffman, is played by Morten Suurballe, who was Inspector Lennart Brix in the original Danish version of The Killing. And there is something of the feel of Scandinavian noir in Acceptable Risk – the slow, simmering quality of it, the muttering nature of the anger and the anchoring of the drama in emphatically realistic settings that are as important as the characters.

The influence of that strain of Scandinavian noir, which relies on mood and tone, is evident here, too. And another aspect of the genre is obvious in Acceptable Risk through its focus on female characters. The central figure is a bewildered, well-off wife of a pharma exec. The Irish cop is a middle-aged woman who rose from chasing purse-snatchers to handling murder cases and the central figure in her life is her elderly mother, a retired police officer. Sarah Manning's sister is central, too, a former pop star and now a woman cobbling together a good living from catering to the needs of the nouveau riche of Dublin.

There is also the matter of corruption in the state itself, a central theme in Scandinavian thrillers – the perverse greed existing under the pleasant public façade of government. It's no surprise that giant pharma company Gumbiner-Fischer has some Irish politicians in its pocket.

Mostly, mind you, Acceptable Risk (written by Ron Hutchinson, directed by Kenneth Glenaan) is a beautifully made, superior thriller. It's a mystery about a businessman found dead in Montreal. Who killed him and why? What big pharma murkiness is going on? Getting to the ending is a highly engaging, twist-filled journey.

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