The Watchman with Stephen Graham

Channel 4's The Watchman

All eyes – Stephen Graham is Carl, the Watchman

A nail-biting evening spent in the lonely company of Stephen Graham’s CCTV operator

★★★½ C4, Wednesday, 24 August, 9pm

THIS IS A modern take on the 1954 Hitchcock classic Rear Window. Here, however, CCTV is our protagonist’s window on the world.

Carl’s a decent bloke, strong moral outlook, feeling fine about another all-night shift on his own manning the neighbourhood CCTV network.

Ironically, actor Stephen Graham virtually puts in a solo shift as Carl, so few scenes does he share with anyone else.

Stephen Graham The Watchman

All eyes – Carl at work

Writer Dave Nath

Seen recently in The Secret Agent, here Graham plays a more vulnerable character. Carl has a complicated home life, trying over the phone to placate his 16-year-old daughter in her strop with mum, while keeping an eye on a gang of young thugs on the local estate.

He also feels rather impotent in his role as guardian, repeatedly getting the brush-off from the police dispatcher when he tries to get officers to intervene as drugs are being dealt. Not enough manpower he’s told, by the dispatcher who clearly is contemptuous of him.

Writer/director Dave Nath found in his research that this is a common occurrence for CCTV operators. He visited CCTV nerve centres and says, ‘I visited one in particular, to look at the layout and how they worked. I started telling them about some of the storylines in the film. That sense of calling the police about stuff, and the police not being able to respond, was a daily occurrence. Also, the sense that shifts are increasingly one-man shifts. I find that worrying, placing one person in that position. It means your placing a hell of a lot of responsibility on that one person.’

From light-hearted to harrowing

Carl says at one point, ‘I’m not trained for this.’ Like James Stewart in Rear Window, Carl eventually can’t just sit and watch. He moves beyond being a voyeur. When he decides he has to do something, suddenly his life is spiralling out of control.

It’s a one-off drama, but Dave Nath gets a lot of emotion into it. We learn about Carl’s home life, the tensions with his children. There’s also a poignant twist to his emotional life late on.

Trouble on the estate

Trouble on the estate

And in the space of an hour, the mood shifts from light-hearted to harrowing.

Stephen Graham, who’s built a huge rep in series such as Boardwalk Empire and This Is England, was the actor Nath had in mind when writing The Watchman.

Graham says, ‘Personally, for me, that’s what really good drama does. It makes us think. We have an opportunity to come into people’s living rooms, and if we can provoke a conversation, that’s brilliant.’

Well worth watching.

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