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Manhunt - Review

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Another week, another new AppleTV+ show. This one has been out for a while – it’s Manhunt, a series about the race for Booth, the man who killed Abraham Lincoln in the theatre. It’s a slow-burn procedural that came out earlier in the year and is every bit worth revisiting further down the line – its command of the genre is accomplished and feels very much like a statement of intent from Apple - recruiting Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s secretary of war, in a 12 day manhunt for Booth.

The series feels as demanding as Stanton’s quest for Booth, cutting back and forth between Booth’s increasingly deseperate bid for survival and jeopardy is hard to create for a series that we know the ending to. We flash forward, flash back – time is spent on the day that Lincoln is killed and we open with the execution in place; Booth positioning himself as a confederate hero and being met with delusions of grandeur. The Confederate camp is divided about Booth and the show explores the consequences that the assassination had along with the failed attempt to kill the vice president, it’s a must for any history fans especially fans of the era – Hamish Linklater does a solid impersonation of Lincoln in a way that requires the series’ steadfast commitment to the facts at all else.

Like with everything else around Manhunt draws parallels with current era American politics. It’s at a tipping point and coups are at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Menzies leans into the stubborn commitment and passion of a character’s attitude to law and order with the role of Stanton bringing the passion and workaholic nature to the role that is commanded, taking up a screen presence that enables him to really shine. Everywhere at the moment, Anthony Boyle’s career breakout role as Booth positions him directly as Stanton’s opposite and the two become locked in a duel whilst rarely being on the same screen as each other – the theatrics, the illusions, the righteousness, all are there – and they couldn’t be more unlike each other if they tried. Karen Taylor Joy’s Booth delves more into the early upbringing of Booth and I’m looking forward to giving that a read – finally – now that I’ve tackled Manhunt head on as this show has really ignited my interest in the era which it feels like it was designed to do.

Lili Taylor and Lovie Simone both round out the cast – Taylor’s grief-stricken Mary Anne Lincoln gives weight to Lincoln’s widow with anguish and a morbid fascination, and Simone brings voice to the treatment of former slaves in post reconstruction America, with a powerhouse performance as Mary Simms who becomes a key witness in the trial overcome a lifetime of fear, the abusive nature of her origin story provides an uncomfortable, but vital watch – signifying that Manhunt very much has lots of things to say.

This feels like a police procedural made for history buffs, those of you who have been enjoying stuff like Masters of the Air and Franklin will be right at home. Dickinson gave us an alt-history take on Emily Dickinson in such a carefree way, For All Mankind explores an alternate history with gripping world-building where Russia won the moon, and there’s more – Greyhound, all the Tom Hanks period dramas. It’s the perfect home for dad TV and Manhunt is very much more of the same – quietly AppleTV+ have become the new HBO and they’re all the better for it.

The way the show explores the mood of the Union that has just won the Civil War and is on the verge of a golden period before Lincoln’s assassination is one of a calm before the storm, and the series wastes no time in getting started. The hope to create a succession crisis by executing the Secretary of State – William H. Seward, in one night, and Vice President Johnson, in addition to this, shows that the plans put in place to kill everybody in the line of succession thus creating a vacuum of power backfiring spectacularly. It’s all in the minutiae, those little moment by moment details, that help create the world of Manhunt look so real and lived in.

Whilst later episodes sag a bit as the series struggles towards a conclusion, it arrives on solid ground. A few moments shot at night beg a use of non-diegetic lighting in order for more clarity on the situation at hand, but the majority of the series is impressively workmanlike in its craft. Carl Franklin, John Dahl and Eva Sørhaug all direct blocks of episodes here, who give the series enough gravitas to provide thrilling entertainment in its strong tackling of relevant themes.

  VERDICT: 7/10

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