Dripping in Chocolate

As a telemovie for Easter, it’s got to be one of the more creative titles around.

Dripping in Chocolate from UKTV immediately gets my attention as a sumptuous invitation. As a thriller, I’m tempted to re-name it Death By Chocolate, but that’s already been taken.

Although this has been produced locally for Pay TV, my expectations of a thriller for UKTV are high. The Brits are first-class at this stuff. This one features Louise Lombard (CSI) and David Wenham (Killing Time, Answered by Fire, SeaChange), also first class.

The opening scenes are stylishly packaged. Lombard plays chocolatier Juliana Lovece, who runs a corner chocolate shop in The Rocks, Sydney. The close-ups of chocolate-making have me salivating, drawn in to a romantic, luscious world that I haven’t seen since Chocolat. But danger lurks around the corner -in more ways than one.

When a faceless blonde is strangled in the rain with fairylights, the romance detours into a dark whodunnit. Enter Detective Bennett O’Mara (Wenham) who finds a chocolate wrapper on the victim’s corpse.

So begins UKTV’s telemovie, a rare sojourn into local production by the Pay TV channel (it must spend a proportion of its annual budget on local drama). It’s unclear whether the intention is a one-off drama or as the forerunner to a crime series…

At the heart of this tale produced by Sarah Smith and Julie McGauran (Wild Boys, Rescue Special Ops) for Southern Star is the chemistry between the two leads. The more O’Mara investigates the crime, the more he becomes attracted to Lovece -but clues make him question whether she is actually the murderer.

A sub-plot sees Lovece protesting against local planning to state politician Stuart Verger (Geoff Morrell). There are also support roles from Chelsie Preston-Crayford, Rick Donald and Richard Brancatisano.

But while the mystery may come with the genre hallmarks or red-herrings and jeopardy, the plotting and scripting is what ultimately lets down this mostly-pedestrian drama. While it has romantic ambitions, these aren’t well-enough supported by the thriller element.

Killing off an unestablished character at the top of the act left me with little concern for the solving of the crime. That left me with the aloof relationship between the two leads as the central point of interest.

The more the stakes were raised the more melodramatic this tale became, moving further and further away from the unsentimental storytelling of British crime. A lot of emphasis was placed on chocolate and use of rain-machines, often at the expense of character or plot.

I was grateful for the performances of Wenham and Lombard, who work hard to create sexual tension. They were paired so well together that ultimately I could have sat through a Chocolat-style romance from the two, without a pointless murder needing to get in the way.

Co-written by John Ridley and directed by Mark Joffe, Dripping in Chocolate is a bittersweet temptation that never fully realises its potential.

Dripping in Chocolate premieres 8:30pm Saturday on UKTV.

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