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Second Sight

There's More to Murder than Meets the Eye in MYSTERY!'s Second Sight

A great detective is only as good as his or her powers of observation -- the ability to spot the overlooked clue, to keep an elusive suspect under surveillance. But what happens when a hotshot police detective leading a high-profile homicide investigation begins to lose his vision?

That's the premise behind Second Sight, a taut psychological thriller written by Paula Milne (The Politician's Wife; Chandler & Co.). Starring Clive Owen (Closer; Bent) and Claire Skinner (The Wingless Bird; Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow), Second Sight airs March 22 through May 3, 2001 at 9PM (check local listings) on PBS.

Detective Chief Inspector Ross Tanner (Clive Owen) is a maverick cop who barrels through life the same way he rollerblades through the streets of London: vigorously. A hard-drinking, chain-smoking workaholic, divorced from his wife, Tanner knows he's not a great father to his young son, but he tries. His self-confidence as a sharp-eyed investigator, however, is never in question, and he's called in to head up the case of the brutal, apparently motiveless murder of Matthew Bendrix (Tom Mullion), a college student found beaten to death just beyond the grounds of his family estate.

The murder has left Matthew's parents understandably shaken: his mother, Judith (Phoebe Nicholls), who doted on him -- perhaps too much; his stepfather, Adam (Stuart Wilson), a wealthy businessman who believes the killer may be a prowler spotted lurking near the house. Tanner is also keeping his eye on the family's nanny, Tracy Villiers (Louise Atkins), with whom Matthew was having a secret sexual relationship; Liam Morrison (Eddie Marsan), the gardener who was supplying the boy with drugs; and Jack Kenworthy (Stuart Wilson, in a dual role), Adam's twin brother, who Adam reports has been abroad for years, but in fact is discovered to have been in London all along. That something is not right in the Bendrix household is brought into even sharper focus by one troubling question: Why would a dying Matthew crawl away from the safety of his home, rather than toward it for help?

On the scene, Tanner meets Detective Inspector Catherine Tully (Claire Skinner), a smart, efficient investigator on the fast track who has been drafted into Tanner's unit as his partner, much to the disgust of the mostly male cadre of detectives. The two clash at once over their working styles: Tanner preaches fact over feeling, while Tully favors, in her words, "a more left-brained, intuitive approach" to crimesolving. Differences aside, Tanner quickly discovers that Tully is a welcome addition to his team.

Tanner also discovers that his recent bouts with blurred vision are symptomatic of a much more serious condition: He is diagnosed with a rare disorder known as AZOOR, a virus that attacks the cornea and causes an intermittent loss of vision, as well as disturbing hallucinations. The effects are irreversible and the prognosis is terrifying: He is going blind. The normally unflappable Tanner is shaken by the diagnosis -- his independence, his future as a cop suddenly undermined. Determined to conceal his illness, he struggles to keep himself from unraveling as he begins to tie together the clues surrounding Matthew's death.

It isn't long before the observant D.I. Tully guesses Tanner's secret, and she makes a deal: She'll be his eyes, as long as he is willing to put in writing her contributions to the case when they solve it -- she's as ambitious as he. As Tanner's visual disturbances and hallucinations intensify -- captured by Second Sight's edgy filmic style, the camera a powerful stand-in for Tanner's point of view -- he and Catherine find their relationship intensifying in parallel, both on and off the job. With her help, Tanner comes to realize that success and survival will depend as much on insight -- "second sight" -- as eyesight, and the alchemy of all his senses.

Writer Paula Milne's father, who lost his vision at the end of World War II, left home when she and her twin sister Claudia (one of the executive producers of Second Sight) were six months old; they met him only a couple of times, when they had become adults. "Perhaps this is the reason that the depiction of blindness on the screen has always resonated with me," Milne notes. "Not simply the condition itself, but also the process of losing one's sight provides a dramatic arena for a theme that has always interested me: how someone invents him -- or herself. Strangely, as I started to write Second Sight, I opened the newspaper to read an obituary saying that my father was dead. It would be hypocritical to say that it invoked a significant response in me, because I had barely met him, yet the timing of his death added a kind of gravitas to the writing process -- it allowed me to feel a genuine compassion for Ross Tanner."

Viewers can look forward to seeing more of Second Sight in seasons to come. Milne and MYSTERY! series executive producer Rebecca Eaton promise Tanner's future holds a number of new cases in store.

Second Sight is a Twenty Twenty Television production for the BBC and WGBH Boston. The film is written by Paula Milne and directed by Charles Beeson (Cider with Rosie); producer is David Lascelles (Moll Flanders). Executive producers are Tessa Ross for the BBC, Peter Ansorge and Claudia Milne for Twenty Twenty, and Rebecca Eaton for WGBH. Second Sight is presented on MYSTERY! by WGBH Boston. Funding for MYSTERY! is provided by public television viewers. MYSTERY! is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by The Caption Center at WGBH Boston. Narrated descriptions of MYSTERY! programs are provided by Descriptive Video Service® (DVS®), a national service of WGBH.

Executive producer for MYSTERY! is Rebecca Eaton.

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