The Shadow Line — Killer TV No 25


Three’s a crowd: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Rea and Christopher Eccleston

BBC1, 2011

‘With what I see here, you try to find the line [of truth] on something like this, it’ll fur up your arteries so thick you’ll think you’re a fucking werewolf.’ – Sgt Foley on discovering the shot-to-death body of Harvey Wratten

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Rafe Spall, Lesley Sharp, Antony Sher, Stephen Rea, Kierston Wareing

Identikit: The murder of a drug baron just released from prison sets detectives and criminals on a chase to discover who ordered the hit.

logosATTRACTING SMALL audiences on BBC2, this conspiracy thriller – created, written and directed by Hugo Blick – nevertheless stood out as one of the most distinctive dramas of 2011. It opened with two uniform cops at the scene of a shooting, the victim being a criminal slumped in a car on a dark night. Dishonest sergeant Foley lingers over the corpse, preparing to inform one of his gangland associates before his own detectives. Moodily shot, with long scenes and a fixation on verbal tension and wordplay, this was a superb drama with mesmerising performances from the likes of Antony Sher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston and an unforgettable Stephen Rea as the chilling manipulator and mystery man Gatehouse. Blick made his name with comedies such as Marion and Geoff and Roger and Val Have Just Got In, but The Shadow Line was a brilliantly realised change of pace. Big-time drug smuggler Harvey Wratten ends up with two bullets in his head soon after his release from prison, and DI Gabriel (Ejiofor), recently recovered from a bullet to the head himself, is called in to investigate. He is plunged into a murky case where he can barely differentiate the goodies from the corrupt, is not even entirely sure whether he was corrupt himself before the bullet in his head disrupted his memories. The only reason he’s still alive, he is repeatedly told, is that he cannot remember certain things. Ejiofor’s riveting performance is accompanied by some great turns from the amazing Rea and the likes of Rafe Spall as Wratten’s psychotic nephew, Kierston Wareing as Gabriel’s mouthy colleague, and Antony Sher as the super secretive Glickman, one-time partner of Wratten’s, now on the run. The Shadow Line took the motifs of the cop drama, such as the opening scene in which a body is usually discovered, and invested them with depths of menace and metaphysical conflict. The series got a mixed critical response after its opening episode from reviewers unused to its dense noir style, but by its conclusion it was praised. Towards the end of its seven-episode run, it veered a little into convoluted and unbelievable terrain, but overall it was a superbly dark and original piece of storytelling.

Classic episode: Episode five is a stormer, as Gatehouse finally locates Glickman in Ireland, where this lethal operator is posing as a cuddly clock seller. Gatehouse has already been shown to be a remorseless and dismayingly efficient killer, so we expect these to be Glickman’s last moments. But when Glickman turns the tables by blowing up his shop, the story again stuns us and spins in a new direction…

Music: Pause by Emily Barker

Watercooler fact: The method of drug smuggling mentioned in the series – drugs hidden in crates of blooms from Holland – was based on a real case (the Flowers Gang).

Miss Marple, Crime Thriller Awards 2013, Win The Fall on DVD

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple returns on Sunday (16 June, 8pm) with another starry cast for A Caribbean Mystery, the first of three new films. As you would suspect from the title, Julia McKenzie’s sleuth is far from St Mary Mead, having headed to St Honore in the Caribbean. However, the Golden Palms resort turns out to be less idyllic that hoped for when fellow guest Major Palgrave dies soon after arriving. Antony Sher plays wheelchair-bound Jason Rafiel, who is press-ganged into being Miss Marple’s helper. Robert Webb, Charity Wakefield, MyAnna Buring, Hermione Norris and Warren Brown line up for questioning.

• If you’re a huge fan and bit of an expert on any of ITV’s best-loved crime series, then Cactus TV may want to put you in the hot seat on air. Cactus are the people who are putting together the season of ITV3 programming that will accompany this autumn’s build-up to the Crime Thriller Awards, which recognise the best TV crime shows and authors. They would like to hear from crime devotees who have extensively cased out shows such as Inspector Morse, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Lewis, Poirot, Rebus, Taggart, Broadchurch or Midsomer Murders. You could be bloggers, book club members, run fan sites or fanzines – in which case, you may be asked to go into the studio to show off your knowledge. Other experts, such as scriptwriters, will also be called on and one idea being considered is to have a quiz element pitting the fans against the scriptwriters. Anyone who fits the bill can put themselves forward by email to Roxanne at Cactus TV –

• We have two copies of The Fall on DVD to give away. The series starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan has just had viewers glued to BBC2 for the last five weeks in a powerful tale of a detective hunting a serial killer in Belfast. The Fall is released on DVD by Acorn Media on 17 June (rrp £19.99, cert 15). To be entered into a prize draw to win a copy, all you have to do is leave a comment or start a new topic on CrimeTimePreview’s brand new Forum.

RULES This offer is open to UK residents only. Prize Draw entrants must leave a comment or start a new topic on the CrimeTimePreview Forum; two names will be drawn on the closing date (Saturday, 22 June) and will be posted a free copy of The Fall. The selectee will need to provide their postal address. No prize alternatives. If anyone comments or starts a discussion but declines the The Fall DVD, an alternative winner will be selected. Good luck!

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The Shadow Line with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston PREVIEW

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Rea and Christopher Eccleston. Pic: BBC

Rating ★★★★★

BBC2 Thursday, 5 May, 9pm

Of the four major new crime/thriller series on screen this week – Vera (ITV1), Case Sensitive (ITV1), Exile (BBC1) and finally The Shadow Line (BBC2) – it is the Beeb’s two offerings that are more interesting, simply because they step outside of the detective/sidekick/procedural format.

And on the basis of its opening episode, The Shadow Line looks extremely good. To say it’s dark would be to underestimate just how pitched in murkiness it is.

From the opening scene, when a rather creepy Sgt Foley uses his pen to probe the entry wounds on a bullet-shattered corpse in the back of a Merc, we’re in a disorientating world.

‘My world, my rules’

‘I don’t think we’re supposed to touch the body,’ Foley’s constable says.

‘My world, my rules,’ replies the sergeant, before saying, ‘You try to find the line on something like this, it’ll fur up your arteries like a fucking werewolf.’

Foley has recognised the corpse as being that of Harvey Wratten, leading crime boss, not that the sergeant reveals the identity to his underling.

Wratten has just been released from prison after serving two years of an 18-year sentence with a very rare Royal Pardon. So, immediately, the underworld is wondering who Wratten ratted on.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as DI Gabriel

The case is handed to DI Jonah Gabriel (Chiwetel Ejiofor), just back on duty after a police operation that went mysteriously wrong and left him with a bullet in the head. He has amnesia and while he insists he is ready for duty, he has blind spots about what kind of officer he used to be. The complicated investigation is not made easier by his boss warning him to ‘take care jumping into the snake pit’.

Meanwhile, Christopher Eccleston is Joseph Bede, who went legit in running a flower and veg business as a front for Wratten, and he is trying to hold things together while the criminals work out who is behind Wratten’s slaying. Complicating matters is Wratten’s psycho nephew, Jay (Rafe Spall), who has also just been released from prison. Jay is itching to take over his uncle’s drug empire and finds Bede’s softly approach to the crisis irritating.

This is an eerie, superb drama, noir storytelling with arresting visuals. The script is clever and every single character, down to a constable asking for ID at a crime scene, has a personality. At times the dialogue cuts across two separate scenes, so that a police discussion in one scene is juxtaposed with an inquest by the gangsters on the same subject – who was driving Wratten when he was murdered? – allowing the viewer to pull the threads together.

Stephen Rea as Gatehouse

In the opener of this seven-part series we don’t even meet Stephen Rea as Gatehouse, the man described in production notes as the Puppetmaster, who watches the police and criminals from the sidelines. Witty and unpleasant, he is bound to become more central as Gabriel gets enmeshed in the mystery. 

It’s written by Hugo Blick, who has notched up some quality series with Marion & Geoff (as writer) and Roger & Val Have Just Got In (executive producer). He has created detailed, complex characters in a frightening world that draws you in.

For someone who has such a profound idea of his characters, Blick seems for a moment to have got the casting wrong of baby-faced Rafe Spall in the Joe Pesci role of Jay. But once Spall gets going he is extremely unnerving. The scene in which he deals with a goon who baits him from a lift by making pig noises is charged with mad menace.

‘It’s blacker than the usual fare’

The Beeb has been careful in releasing pics and preview disks of this series, so I’ve only seen episode one. But assuming that the story doesn’t suffer a major quality breakdown in coming weeks, this will be unmissable TV.

Asked if he could compare The Shadow Line to anything else, Stephen Rea said, ‘No, I think it’s blacker than the usual fare, and it’s also hilarious.’

I didn’t spot that much hilarity in the opener, but then perhaps Rea hasn’t totally shaken off his evil character yet.

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor Jonah Gabriel, Christopher Eccleston Joseph Bede, Stephen Rea Gatehouse, Rafe Spall Jay Wratten, Antony Sher Glickman, Richard Lintern Detective Superintendent Patterson,  Kierston Wareing Detective Sergeant Lia Honey, Malcolm Storry Maurice Crace,  Freddie Fox Ratallack, David Schofield Sergeant Foley,  Sean Gilder Robert Beatty,  Lesley Sharp Julie Bede, Clare Calbraith Laura Gabriel, Agni Scott Alison, Eve Best Petra Mayler, Stanley Townsend Bulkat Babur, Robert Pugh Bob Harris, Tobais Menzies Ross McGovern, Toby Bakare Andy Dixon, Sharon D Clarke Mrs Dixon, Bryony Afferson Sara, Nicholas Jones Bruce Penney, Sasha Behar Laing, Cavan Clerkin Leonard Glickman, Amelia Lowdell Frieda Glickman, Ace Bhatti Police Commander Khokar, Penny Downie Monroe

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