Line of Duty series 2, Sebastian Bergman novel, Ruth Rendell’s Thirteen Steps Down on ITV1

• So, Line of Duty has been recommissioned for a second series, having concluded with the suicide of Lennie James’ character DCI Tony Gates at the end of the five-parter. The Beeb’s honchos are pleased with viewing figures of between three and four million for the drama, and Jed Mercurio did a fine job in creating a cop show that veered away from the boring procedural cliches – homicide cops turning up at a murder scene etc – for a more realistic slant on modern policing and corruption.

DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON), Detective Constable Kate Fleming (VICKY McCLURE)
Arnott and Fleming. Pic: BBC

The series had some tremendous twists, but the problem with stunning plot swerves is that the story then has to work bloody hard to make sense of them – and this is where Line of Duty went off the rails for me. Jackie’s murder was a gobsmacking moment, but was Gates’ appearance and framing for her murder fortuitous? Surely, it could not have been planned, so the killers, who were not that bright, suddenly improvised by setting up the detective? Gates’ suicide was another shocker, but somehow seemed a little false. After all, this was the great survivor, who insisted to the last that he wasn’t bent and loved his family.

And of course Dot’s emergence right at the end as the real supervillain was another stunner. So this suggests he knew of Tony’s secret affair with Jackie, and we were left to assume he somehow engineered his boss’s framing and downfall, though this was never explained. Arnott and Kate lying that Gates was pursuing the suspect when he was killed was ludicrous – there was a whole traffic jam of motorists behind who could have testified that that was not the case.

The Guardian has a good blog on the series, and they rightly point out that Line of Duty could have done with more episodes. And I also agree that it was more interesting when it was dealing with Tony’s corruption, before Jackie’s murder.

Overall, it was engrossing, and Lennie James, Vicki McClure, Adrian Dunbar and Neil Morrissey were all convincing in their respective roles. Series two should be interesting.

• Watch out for the forthcoming novel of Sebastian Bergman, on which BBC4’s recent two-parter from Sweden was based. I’ve been sent it by the excellent Shots ezine to review and I’m just about to start it. It’s written by a duo called (Michael) Hjorth (Hans) Rosenfeldt (the latter being the creator of The Bridge), and Rolf Lassgård was excellent as the police profiler tormented by the deaths of his wife and child in a tsunami.

• TV is absorbed with running, jumping, swimming and cycling at the moment, but there are one or two drama gems tucked in amid the London medal chases. Ruth Rendell’s Thirteen Steps Down comes to ITV1 on Wednesday, 1 August. Rendell seems to have less of a profile than she did 10 or 15 years ago, but she is still the queen of the disturbing psychological thriller. This two-parter, starring Luke Treadaway, Geraldine James and Elarica Gallacher, revolves around Max and the fantasies he has that steer him towards becoming a potential murderer. Preview coming next week.

• Finally, dreary Downton Abbey is up against Breaking Bad for best drama at this year’s Emmys. Breaking what? you may ask if you reside in Britain, owing to the criminal lack of airspace being given to this totally superb series in the UK. It’s better than Downton by miles, better than Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire – all of whom are in the face-off for the gong. Channel 5 showed series one and two of BB, which stars Bryan Cranston as a chemistry teacher with cancer who decides to become a illegal drug manufacturer. In terms of visually superb storytelling, originality and fine acting, BB is way out in front. Coming soon – CrimeTimePreview’s national campaign to get Breaking Bad back on our screens. Or you could get the DVD… Follow @crimetimeprev

Line of Duty starring Lennie James PREVIEW

Line of Duty: DCI James, DS Arnott and DC Fleming. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC2: starts Tuesday, 26 June, 9pm

Story: Steve Arnott is a young officer who’s fallen foul of his superiors for refusing to help in the cover-up of an operation that ended in the shooting of an innocent father. He seems ideal to join AC-12, an anti-corruption police unit, just as it starts to investigate Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates, the regional force’s Officer of the Year.

Dodgy cops and a public cheated of decent policing are the themes of this bold and tense new thriller. An intelligent, gripping drama that delves into the reality of modern policing is long overdue.

Lennie James plays DCI Tony Gates, a Jag-driving, highly commended detective with a complicated professional and private life. Adrian Dunbar is the ‘zealot’ anti-corruption cop, Superintendent Hastings, who suspects that Gates’ glowing record and outstanding clear-up rate is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Fleming wants to join the ‘big, sexy’ crime squad

He drafts in young DS Steve Arnott, played by Martin Compston – who has refused his previous boss’s order to help cover-up police failings that resulted in the killing of an innocent man – to join his crusade against bent coppers. Trouble is, Steve is not sure Gates is up to no good. When Hastings cites Gates for not reporting a free restaurant meal he accepted, Arnott’s belief that Hastings is just picking on a good officer seems to be confirmed.

Vicky McClure as DC Fleming
Writer/producer Jed Mercurio deftly and quickly establishes a murky and troubling depiction of modern coppering, with characters treading a fine line between getting the job done and breaking the rules.

His story introduces us to the practice of ‘laddering’, or cherry-picking easy cases, then adding a series of bogus charges that never make it to court but boost an officer’s clear-up figures. And we also see DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) being ordered to ‘prioritise’ – pursue two out of three cases, while downgrading a third that can’t be resolved quickly.

What makes the drama captivating is that there are so many grey areas around the characters, particularly Gates. He disarms a thug trying to mug a young mother, but also helps his girlfriend (Gina McKee) to dodge a drink-driving rap, which he doesn’t realise is actually a hit-and-run killing.

DCI Gates’ ‘big, sexy’ crime squad
Fleming also notices him massaging his caseload, but is he a crook? Watching Hastings and his boys trying to prove it over five episodes will be intriguing, but it is a refreshing change to see a mainstream UK crime drama that isn’t about ingenious serial killers or murderers in picturesque settings.

Watchful: Gates and Morton

Gates’ ‘big, sexy’ crime squad TO-20 is an all-male club that includes Gates’ loyal followers DS Matt ‘Dot’ Cottan, DC Deepak Kapoor and DC Nigel Morton. It’s a club that ambitious Kate Fleming wants to join. Gates has an aura as the force’s star attraction and most would back his confidence that he can see off Hastings and AC-12.

Mercurio, the man who created the excellent drama Cardiac Arrest, says of the drama’s genesis, ‘My research revealed that modern policing is a far cry from the familiar world of most police dramas. Police procedures have been transformed by a target culture that dictates which crimes get investigated – and which don’t. Forces across the country routinely drop one in three reported crimes to concentrate on cases that can be solved within a workable timeframe by workable manpower… These revelations provided the perfect setting for our thriller, the less familiar precinct wherein the police police themselves.’

Lennie James must be delighted that Mercurio’s role of the sharp-witted police boss Gates came his way. He puts in a classy performance as the copper’s copper, and watching him trying to keep his empire together is going to be one of the summer’s main TV attractions.

Cast: Lennie James DCI Tony Gates, Martin Compston DS Steve Arnott, Vicky McClure DC Kate Fleming, Gina McKee Jackie Laverty, Adrian Dunbar Superintendent Ted Hastings, Craig Parkinson DS Matt ‘Dot’ Cottan, Neil Morrissey DC Nigel Morton, Faraz Ayub DC Deepak Kapoor

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Inspector George Gently – Gently Upside Down PREVIEW

Rating ★★★

BBC1, starts Sunday, 4 September, 8.30pm


Story: The body of a missing schoolgirl is found in woods. As Gently and Bacchus investigate, they are drawn into the burgeoning world of pop and media celebrity

Crime fans on Twitter and elsewhere have still got ruffled feathers over the Beeb’s decision to axe the stylish drama Zen after just one series. Why chop that and not Inspector George Gently, has been a recurring complaint.

The reasoning of BBC1 controller Danny Cohen that there were too many male-dominated cop shows is pretty daft. If anything, Gently‘s leads of Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby are more hairy than Zen‘s (Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino).

What’s more likely is that Gently is a settled brand, now in its fourth series, that’s ticking over nicely with overseas sales and an audience of around 5.5 million, it ticks the nostalgia box and presumably it has been cheaper to film in the UK/Ireland than Italy.

Bacchus ‘on a promise’
But while Gently is not bad, it’s not that special either. It is one of many by-the-numbers procedurals that fill the schedules, right down to the gruff detective and his regulation sidekick saying lines such as, ‘Where were you on the night of Friday the 29th?’

Pitch this well-worn template to any channel boss, throw in a nice regional setting (in this case, the North East) and a bit of nostalgia (Swinging Sixties), and it seems you can’t fail to get your cop show commissioned.

The shame is that this plodding formula never allows the plods we see every week to come to life. Apart some a couple of throwaway exchanges at the beginning and end of Gently Upside Down about Bacchus being ‘on a promise’ after work, the detective and sidekick remain crime-solving automatons.

Schoolgirl victim’s affair
At least the 2007 pilot gave Gently some human interest, when he postponed his retirement to track down his wife’s murderer in Northumberland (based on Alan Hunter‘s Inspector Gently novels).

Anyway, this first of two 90-minute films (the second is Goodbye China), sees Gently and his mop-top sidekick investigating the murder of a schoolgirl, Mary. It cleverly uses the explosion in youth and celebrity culture by having a couple of the victim’s friends getting mixed up with the makers of a hit regional pop show. 

Newcomer Kate Bracken – a very good ‘It Girl’
Detective and sidekick think Mary was having an affair with an older man, and proceed to suspect every older man who crosses their path – Mary’s father, the music teacher, the deputy head, the fading, ageing TV presenter. The latter is played by Neil Morrissey, who does a nice turn as a dissolute, lecherous has-been.

The mystery’s resolution is tinged with sadness, and the guest performances are good, particularly Sean Gilder as Mary’s father, and newcomer Kate Bracken as her friend and potential Sixties It Girl, Hazel.

So, a decent episode. But it’s still hard not to miss Zen.

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