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).

Glue, E4, Yasmin Paige, Jordan Stephens, Kierston Wareing PREVIEW

Tina is an aspiring jockey with a wild side in Glue. Pics: E4

Rating: ★★★

E4: starts Monday, 15 September, 10pm

Story: When the body of a local teenage boy is found underneath the wheels of a tractor, the villagers in the remote community of Overton, including his gang of mates, have their lives thrown into disarray.

GLUE IS A crime drama for young adults, going out on Channel 4’s trendy young sibling network E4. It is – as you’d expect – slick, full of cocky young characters, fast, but with some grit thrown in.

Written by Bafta-winner Jack Thorne (This Is England, Skins, The Fades), Glue is set in the remote rural spot of Overton. But this village, while placid and pleasant-looking, is not the pretty backdrop you get in Lewis or Doc Martin.

Rob is Tina’s boyfriend

It is a green and not-so-pleasant land. The youngsters are bored thrill-seekers, and we meet them enjoying a wild night of naked dares and jumping into grain silos.

Twock ‘n’ roll

Twocking a car, crashing, drugs, sex, more sex and boozing are all crammed into the opening
episode, ramming home the point that these guys are seriously on the edge.

If anything, the waywardness is laid on a little thick. Tina, aged 19, loves horses and wants to be the first female jockey in the Derby, but will happily risk her prospects by breaking the law and thrashing a million-pound horse across the turf, to the fury of her boss.

Ruth is a rookie cop who wants to join the murder investigation

James, 18, works on the family farm, but is neglectful of his role there. Meanwhile, Rob, who’s also 18, is so wild and self-seeking that he’s hard to warm to.

Murder shatters the community

Then there’s Ruth, a mix-raced provisional police constable. She and her Romany mum are estranged from the travelling community.

There’s a harsh reality check for this band of mates when Cal Bray, the 14-year-old brother of one of them, Eli, is found dead under a tractor. So much is going on in this village – there’s even a voyeuristic video of Rob having sex in a barn sent anonymously to him – that the murder mystery is intriguing and set to reverberate through the remaining seven episodes of this series.

Eli is grief-stricken and angry over his brother’s murder

Certainly, it has a good-looking cast that should win over its hip target audience. Jordan Stephens (of Rizzle Kicks), Callum Turner, Charlotte Spencer, Yasmin Paige, Faye Marsay, Jessie Cave and Tommy McDonnell (excellent in the recent prison movie Starred Up) are among its actors, backed up by the likes of Kierston Wareing and Kerry Fox.

Once the characters and story settle down, Glue looks rich enough to become a pretty engrossing ride.

Follow @crimetimeprev

Five Daughters — Killer TV No.41

BBC1, 2010
‘I’m not a waste of time, space or oxygen. I deserve the air that I breathe. I stand on corners, alone, lonely, waiting, always for one last time. I love and I am loved. I am alive, except when I choose to play dead…’ – Annette Nicholls
Ian Hart, Sarah Lancashire, Jaime Winstone, Ruth Negga, Joseph Mawle, Vicky McClure, Kierston Wareing
Identikit: Factually based drama telling the stories of five young women who were murdered in Ipswich in 2006.


‘This is madness,’ says DCS Stewart Gull in this fact-based drama, and those words sum up the dismay – among public and within the police – that surrounded the shocking series of five murders in Ipswich during late 2006. Amid the car chases, brilliant deductions, twisting whodunits and maverick cops, British television occasionally produces a serious drama that punctures the fiction by offering an insight into the real pain behind the crime story headlines. Five Daughters was about the Ipswich serial murders committed by Steve Wright and the impact on the victims’ families. Stephen Butchard wrote a hugely compassionate three-parter that showed that the victims, whatever their backgrounds as sex workers and drug users, were individuals who were loved and profoundly missed by those close to them. Completely free of cop-show cliches, it was based on the personal testimonies of those close to the events in 2006. It tells, for example, of Anneli Alderton’s hopes of

starting her own hairdressing business after coming out of Holloway Prison, or Gemma Adams turning to a drug charity project to break her heroin addiction and get out of the sex trade. And all along is the loving support of mothers, siblings and friends as the women battle to turn their lives around. Cops and killer were not the focus, but the ordinary lives devastated by these awful crimes were. The production was low-key and sensitive, and beautifully acted by a fine cast of young and experienced actors. Though painful to watch at times, the mini-series went some way to help redress the wrong done to the women by showing them as the good, decent people behind the often lurid headlines. 

Watercooler fact: Following Five Daughters, writer Stephen Butchard returned to the fiction side of crime with Sky Atlantic’s Falcon and BBC1’s excellent Good Cop, starring Warren Brown.

Other links…
Best crime dramas of 2010

Follow @crimetimeprev

Inside Men starring Steven Mackintosh PREVIEW

Blag of nerves – honest John (Steven Mackintosh) steps up. Pic: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1, starts Thursday, 2 February, 9pm

Story: John Coniston manages a highly secure cash counting house. One day he finds himself in the middle of a terrifying, bloody armed robbery. Flash back to nine months earlier and John is confronting two employees he suspects to siphoning off £50,000. They expect boring, playsafe John to call the cops, but John offers them a way out…

Television is so obsessed with whodunits and police procedurals that it usually leaves the heist escapades to the movies.

Inside Men breaks that pattern with a intriguing character study of three guys who, because of their individual problems and insecurities, decide to step out of their comfort zones and risk everything by attempting a £15million robbery.

Steven Mackintosh, Ashley Walters and Warren Brown perfectly manage the haunted looks of the men saying no more Mr Nice Guy. This is a caper without geezers, just three beta males who want to be alpha.

Warren Brown and Kierston Wareing
Mackintosh plays the mouse-like John Coniston, manager of a cash counting house who looks like he’s going to be sick every time a fiver goes missing. So desperate is he to maintain his generally unblemished monthly record at the staff bonus party that he replaces a missing £240 from his own wallet.

Also working at the depot is forklift driver Marcus (Warren Brown), an irresponsible dreamer with debts and a loving, lairy wife, Gina (Kierston Wareing). Chris (Ashley Walters) is the security guard with an alcoholic mother, who lands a new girlfriend and suddenly wants to get out of his miserable rut.

The opening episode of this four-parter kicks off with pounding tension as masked robbers hit the depot. Events then backtrack nine months and we get an insight into the lives of the three principals.

Going for broke
The narrative flashes back and forth, cleverly keeping the viewer on edge. Steven Mackintosh holds the whole thing together as the head-down drone with a plodding marriage who suddenly decides to go for broke.

Warren Brown breezes through as reckless Marcus, and only Ashley Walters is playing against type as timid and shy.

Written by Tony Basgallop (EastEnders, Being Human, Hotel Babylon), this is full of sharp character strokes – such as John’s awful mateyness with a boss who clearly thinks he’s a loser – that  keep you watching to how the desperadoes get through this.

It’s an involving, tense opener that’s right on the money.

Cast: Steven Mackintosh John, Ashley Walters Chris, Warren Brown Marcus, Kierston Wareing Gina, Leila Mimmack Dita, Nicola Walker Kirsty, Hannah Merry Olivia, Tom Mannion Gordon, Ruth Gemmell Rebecca, Paul Popplewell  Tom

Follow @crimetimeprev

Inside Men and Mafia Month

Inside Men, the story of a multi-million pound robbery by four ordinary men, is being filmed in Bristol by the BBC. Steven Mackintosh (Camelot, Most Sincerely) is John, manager of the cash counting house. Joining him in the scam is depot security guard Chris (Ashley Walters – Outcasts, Five Days), and forklift driver Marcus (Warren Brown – Luther, Single Father).

Kierston Wareing – who is in every other crime drama these, recently notching up The Shadow Line, Luther and The Runaway – plays Marcus’s wife, Gina, who also is involved in the robbery.

Written by Tony Basgallop, whose credits include Worried about the Boy and Hughie Green, the twist here is what happens to these guys once they step out of their comfort zones. Each has a reason for joining the heist. Chris has an alcoholic mother, young girlfriend and hopes the money will make his life better. Marcus borrowed money to set up a hairdressing salon that crashed.

Tony Basgallop says, ‘Inside Men is the story of an old-school cash robbery but with the “geezer” element removed. It’s a study in what it takes for a modern man to step up, assert himself, and have the courage to take something by force. How do you go from being a beta male to an alpha male, and what are the implications on your everyday life?’

• In August Sky Atlantic has an offer you can’t refuse – Mafia Month. It’s a motley bunch of programmes, including TV mobster movies Lansky (1999) with Richard Dreyfuss and Falcone (1999, aka Excellent Cadavers), starring Chazz Palminteri and F Murray Abraham, the story of murdered Sicilian prosecutor Giovanni Falcone. There’s a documentary, Mob Stories, in which five high-ranking gangsters talk publicly for the first time. Season three of The Sopranos is also throwing its weight around in there. The FBI is doing its best to build a RICO case against Tony, who is bugged and under surveillance. This season  includes the classic – some say the finest – Sopranos episode, Pine Barrens. Written by Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter and directed by Steve Buscemi, it’s the one with Paulie and Chris lost in the sub-zero New Jersey forests.

Luther series 2 with Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson

Idris Elba returns as DCI John Luther. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★½

BBC1, from Tuesday, 14 June, 9pm

Luther seems to have morphed from a crime series into a horror show as series two returns.

Dark rooms, creaking staircases, sudden jolts – the show is loaded with the kind of frights that are sprung in a Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger shocker.

Idris Elba is back at his volcanic best as the detective wrestling with his personal demons – including the murder of his wife, Zoe, at the end of the last series – as well as a demon on London’s streets. A man wearing a grotesque Punch mask is stalking the capital randomly murdering lone women (the usual stock victims in slasher films).

Ruth Wilson returns as Alice Morgan
Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter has a lot to answer for – namely, the ongoing vogue for fiendish serial killers with elaborate murder rituals. Lecter has become the template for the modern bogeyman. Where serial murderers are rare, opportunistic and ordinary, in crime series and novels they are now everywhere, with high IQs and a flair for theatrical murders.

Writer Neil Cross (Spooks, The Fixer) gave Luther a brilliant mind too and so perhaps felt his hero has to battle high-achievers on the murder front. In the first series it was Alice Morgan – a convincingly oddball Ruth Wilson – and she returns here. The new killer that Luther is up against this time is another serial bogeyman, who flaunts his crimes and has a near-supernatural ability to vanish when police helicopters, dogs and officers are all around him.

So Luther is really less a police procedural than a cop chiller. It’s a polished, slick production, heavy on atmosphere but light on reality.

John Luther returns to work in the newly created Serious and Serial Unit, which is headed by his former adversary, the complaints officer Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley).

Luther’s soft spot for Alice the killer is a mystery
Paul McGann also returns as Mark, who had taken Luther’s place in Zoe’s life, before her murder. Despite their former antagonism, they have now bonded over their mutual loss.

Partners again – Luther and Ripley

Luther recruits DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) to his team, after the rising star’s career was damaged in the last series when he helped Luther.

Luther also goes to visit Alice in her high-security psychiatric unit (which brings to mind Clarice Starling visiting Lecter). The detective’s desire to help her is one of the more mind-boggling threads of the story.

Kierston Wareing’s new character – Caroline
A new face is that of Kierston Wareing – a very hot actor in crime series right now, having appeared in Martina Cole’s The Runaway and The Shadow Line recently. She plays Caroline, whose husband Luther once had imprisoned for murder. She asks for his help to rescue her daughter from a life in porn.

In another credibility-stretching storyline, she blames Luther for the destruction of her family when her husband was put away. This would be the husband who murdered and chopped up a woman.

This two-parter is the first of two new Luther specials. Idris Elba remains a huge screen presence as he moves on from his terrific performance in The Wire, and as a moody fright fest this new series delivers, but not even Luther’s super-intuition could make the characters believable.

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

%d bloggers like this: