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Vienna Blood: Deadly Communion, review: Freudian drama relishes its own perversions

A charismatic lead, Jürgen Maurer, can’t save this derivative detective show, though turn-of-the-century Austria looks stunning

When Vienna Blood (BBC Two) first appeared in 2019, this period detective drama had a whiff of Sherlock about it, owing to the fact that the two shows shared a scriptwriter, Steve Thompson. It was nowhere near as good, but it was at least trying to perk things up with a bit of quirkiness and an awkward, odd-couple chemistry between the two leads: a gruff detective inspector and a young psychoanalyst. 

Based on the novels by Frank Tallis, the show proved a ratings hit for BBC Two. Now we’re into series three, and, on the evidence of the first episode, the plots are taking a darker turn. It has also abandoned all pretence of being anything out of the ordinary. Detective Oskar Rheinhardt (Jürgen Maurer) and the (now famed) Freudian analyst Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard) no longer have a quirky chemistry – the older man finds the younger one annoying and a little distasteful in his preoccupation with sex, opinions which the viewer may share. 

Vienna Blood’s main selling point is its setting in turn-of-the-century Vienna, which allows for some beautiful buildings and costumes but otherwise lends things a chilly air. In this episode, a seamstress was found murdered with no obvious sign of injury. Closer inspection (like so many dramas of this type, it loves a beautiful female corpse) revealed that she had been stabbed with a hat pin through the brain stem. Then a second victim was identified, and our detective duo had a serial killer on their hands. 

Liebermann very quickly deduced that the women had been murdered at the point of sexual climax. “It’s a kind of penetration,” he explained. “What’s the matter with you, Max? Why do you find it so fascinating? Sometimes you actually sound like you’re enjoying it,” an unhappy Rheinhardt told Liebermann. My thoughts exactly. There is a happy medium between Silent Witness and Midsomer Murders, and this isn’t it. 

The drama is a German-Austrian co-production, and perhaps we should expect more acquisitions like this as the BBC’s budget shrinks. It does have a charismatic lead in Maurer, who is the main reason for watching it. But the plot was plodding – an uninspired cast of male suspects, and a female fashion designer who was clearly hiding something. The next episode at least sounds promising: the case of a retired soldier convinced that he is living under a curse. 

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