The Shadow Line — Killer TV No 25

BB240226-2540THE-SHADOW-LINE

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).

The Honourable Woman, BBC1, Maggie Gyllenhaal

MAGGIE GYLLENHALL is THE HONOURABLE WOMAN (Nessa Stein) on BBC2
It’s a dangerous road for The Honourable Woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★½

BBC2: starts Thursday, 3 July, 9pm

Story: Nessa Stein’s father was a Zionist arms procurer. As children, she and her brother Ephra witness his assassination. Later, as an adult, inheriting her father’s company, she inverts its purpose from supplying arms to laying broadband cable networks between Israel and the West Bank – a decision that makes her many powerful enemies…

THE SHADOW LINE was not as big a hit as Broadchurch or Happy Valley, but the BBC2 cop thriller from producer/writer/director Hugo Blick was one of the most distinctive and stunning crime series of 2012.

It has been a tantalising wait to see what he would come up with next, particularly when a stellar cast was announced for his follow-up, The Honourable Woman, with names such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Stephen Rea, Katharine Parkinson and more.

Well, the eight-parter is now just a few weeks away, and I can confirm that it’s another superb intrigue from Blick, though different from The Shadow Line.

Maggie Gyllenhall as Nessa

Maggie Gyllenhall, with a very good Brit accent for her first TV project, is Nessa Stein, who has inherited her assassinated Israeli father’s business. Where he dealt in guns, Nessa embarks on a more ethical approach to business, installing broadband cable to Palestinians and Israelis.

Nessa Stein (MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL) The Honourable Woman BBC
Nessa is the enigma at the centre of the thriller

This desire to build connectivity and understanding is worthy, but it generates for Nessa a hornets’ nest of enemies and deadly dealings. To start, when she selects a Palestinian businessman to take on the next phase of the project, he commits suicide on the day she announces the deal.

Suspicious? Well, the Israeli she had previously worked with is enraged, the British secret service suspect Mossad of murder, while the Metropolitan police, the FBI and US military also stick their various oars in.

Hugo Blick’s the master of TV suspense

The first episode pulls off the feat of being hard to follow but gripping at the same time. And once again Blick proves inspired at creating a disorientating, threatening mood that draws you in.

By episode two, the story is easier to follow but still full of mystery and danger. Blick is the master of the set piece moments, and here there is a terrific sequence in which an FBI agent is not sure if she has been betrayed and has to go on the run. The writer/director loves telling the story visually, played out with music or a voiceover.

Blick also clearly relishes writing roles for Stephen Rea, who was breathtaking as the menacing Gatehouse in The Shadow Line. He steals the show again, this time as the soon-to-be-sacked spy Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle.

Lindsay Duncan and Janet McTeer

If he’s not delivering killer lines – ‘Haven’t seen anything like that since David Nixon and Ali Bongo’ – he’s pursing his lips and raising a dubious eyebrow. His scenes with Lindsay Duncan (who plays his ex-wife) and Janet McTeer (boss and ex-lover) are lip-smackingly delicious.

While The Shadow Line also had many scenes that had to be relished and was hugely entertaining, it stretched a little too far by the end.

The Honourable Woman is just as riveting, but with its interplay between several fascinating women – particularly Nessa and the nanny Atika, who were once kidnapped together and are haunted by it – and its tangled plot, it will be interesting to see if Blick’s latest drama will be resolved with more cohesion.

Either way, it is a further sign that we’re being spoiled by a glut of excellent TV dramas right now, no doubt fuelled by The Killing, Breaking Bad and other imports.

Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal Nessa Stein, Lubna Azabal Atika Halabi, Eve Best Monica Chatwin, Andrew Buchan Ephra Stein, Lindsay Duncan Anjelica Hayden-Hoyle, Janet McTeer Dame Julia Walsh, Tobias Menzies Nathaniel Bloom, Igal Naor Shlomo Zahary, Genevieve O’Reilly Frances Pirsig, Katherine Parkinson Rachel Stein, Stephen Rea Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle

See also…
The Shadow Line review
Hugo Blick interviewed by Bafta

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The Honourable Woman, New Tricks, Shetland, Z Cars, Inspector Nardone

Maggie Gyllenhaal has signed to appear in Hugo Blick’s new thriller, The Honourable Woman, for BBC2. Blick was behind the quirky, compelling The Shadow Line, so all-in-all this looks a bit special. Gyllenhaal will play Nessa, whose father was a Zionist arms procurer, and, as a child, she and her brother witnessed his assassination. As an adult, she inherits his business and tries to switch its purpose from arms to laying data cable between the Israel and the West Bank. The Shadow Line was convoluted but full of brilliant verbal sparring, so this new seven-parter with its spies and international setting should be thick with intrigue.

• The tenth series of New Tricks returns on Tuesday, 30 July, at 9pm. This time in the drama following the retired cold-case cops, Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong) is suspended after assaulting an officer he suspects of covering up a death in custody that led to his early retirement. Stalwarts Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong will be leaving during this series, following the recent departure of James Bolam. However, Tamzin Outhwaite and Nicholas Lyndhurst will be joining Dennis Waterman and new boy Denis Lawson, so the hit drama will be facing a bit of crunch time to see if and how the fresh characters bed in. Meanwhile, the 9th and final series of CSI: NY also launches on Tuesday, 30 July, on C5. But New Tricks, wobbling from all the departures as it may be, should still see off CSI: NY in the ratings with ease.

• Must admit, I couldn’t really understand why the Beeb decided to do another series of Shetland, such was the quiet passing of the first, but they’re certainly throwing the stars at it for the next outing of the Douglas Henshall drama. Brian Cox ( The Bourne Identity) and Julie Graham (Survivors) will be on hand for the next batch of Ann Cleeve‘s stories – Raven Black, Blue Lightning and Dead Water. If the writers manage to breath some life into the characters this time round, I’ll raise a dram to them.

• If you’re an Everton supporter the Z Cars theme tune is never far away, but for the rest of us there will be a chance to renew acquaintances with the music and accompanying series that was so hugely popular and influential during the 60s and 70s. Z Cars Collection One will be released on a two-disc DVD on 2 September. Writer Troy Kennedy Martin believed that the genre needed ‘an injection of energy and bite’ and that’s what Z Cars had in abundance. Making its TV debut on the BBC in 1962, it went on to become one of the longest-running British TV shows, airing until 1978.

• Inspector Montalbano is currently on leave of absence from BBC4. But the Sicilian is not the only Italian crime-fighter on UK telly. Ever heard of Inspector Nardone? If not, that’s probably because he is tucked away on True Movies, one of the lesser known multi-channel networks. It’s a period drama set in post-war Milan and is based on a real person. Nardone (played by Sergio Assisi) is a crusading cop who roots out corruption at the Questura despite opposition from his spineless superiors. Like Montalbano, there a strain of light-heartedness and romance running through the series, and for crime fans who like the era, it’s a fresh take on the continental cop genre. Inspector Nardone returns to True Movies 1 at 1am from Saturday, 17 August, through to Friday, 23 August, and on True Drama at 1am from 12 August through to 17 August.

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