Last night's viewing - The Fear, Channel 4; Inside Claridge's, BBC2


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The Independent Culture

You don't exactly hurt the chances of making your crime thriller a success if you cast Peter Mullan in the opening role, an actor who seems to be able to flicker between vulnerability and menace in the twitch of an eyelid.

And, from the opening moments of Richard Cottan's drama about a Brighton crime boss struggling with a disintegrating grasp on reality, Mullan was centre screen and grippingly hard to read. He looked like a victim at first, staggering across the shingle at night before turning to stare transfixed at a gunman under the pier. In ultra slow-motion, a bullet exited the barrel and headed straight towards his skull, as if this was the bloody end to which the whole drama was aimed.

One of the pleasures of The Fear, though, is that, like Richie Beckett, you can never be entirely sure of what's real and what's not. Heading home from a civic photocall by the derelict West Pier, Richie – a pillar of the local business community and leading light in the restoration committee – climbs out of his chauffeur-driven car and savagely beats a passing unicyclist. They can be irritating, of course, but Richie's reaction is excessive even so – and what's more worrying for him is that he can't even remember why his knuckles are skinned and bloody a few hours later. "I haven't lifted a finger to anyone in this town for 15 years and I've no intention of starting now," he tells his son a little later, and there's no indication as he says it that he's anything but entirely sincere.

This neural meltdown would be bad news even if all Richie had in the diary was a game of golf with the local bent copper (if you can't remember the name of the man you're bribing, he tends to get annoyed). But he's going to need all his wits and more, because one of his sons, Cal, has annoyed some Albanian gangsters who want a little bit of the underworld trade that Richie has effectively monopolised for years. With a dead prostitute as a bargaining chip (they leave her head and limbs in Cal's bed in a successful attempt to get his attention), the Albanians have an edge, and they're not fussy about sharpening it further with arson and murder. Cal's brother Matty – Cordelia to his Goneril in this seaside Lear – finds that all attempts to calm the situation are futile.

The Albanians are a bit embarrassing, frankly – borderline offensive in their stereotyped villainy. But Cottan's drama isn't just Guy Richie face-offs and growling machismo. Beckett has a difficult, glacial relationship with his wife – who runs a Brighton art gallery as a hobby job – and there's a nicely ambiguous scene when it becomes clear that he's drawn back towards her by his illness, hungry for a tenderness he hasn't himself shown for years. He can also do black humour. "Put it in the garage in the freezer... Respectfully," says Richie as he tells his son to hide the body parts he'd found under his duvet.

Inside Claridge's, Jane Treay's documentary about the London hotel, is likely to be the only way that most of us are going to be able to snoop around the Brook Penthouse suite, given that the current rack rate is £6,900 a night. Compared to a Premier Inn, that's pretty steep, but you do get a 24-hour butler thrown in and the fawning and cringing services of a very highly trained staff. You also get to be pretty high-handed about the decor. In this first episode, a Japanese pop star rented the Brook suite for a month, but only on condition that they installed a hot tub for her first. By contrast, the Melchors from California were doing things on a budget, staying 16 nights in the £5,500-night Royal Suite. They left the hotel twice in that time, so they obviously wanted to get their money's worth.