Top Boy 2, C4, with Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Lorraine Burroughs

Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Dris (Shone Romulus) in Top Boy 2
Dushane and Dris in Top Boy 2. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Tuesday, 20 August, 9pm

Story: 27-year-old Dushane has finally made it as ‘Top Boy’, and is moving into the big time with boss Joe. But Dushane’s former right-hand man, Sully, is now a potentially dangerous rival with a new partner-in-crime, violent and volatile Mike…

Graffiti of Sully and Dushane in C4's Top Boy2
Sully and Dushane – series artwork

WELCOME BACK to the Summerhouse Estate, where the gangs are still thriving and tension is high. Dushane is where he wants to be – Top Boy – and thinks he can ride the tiger, that he is in control.

He’s joined up with big boss Joe and they are getting their largest drugs shipment ever. For most of the opening episode (there are four in all), everything seems to be going Dushane’s way.

Even when he is arrested on suspicion of killing Kamale, Dushane is soon released unscathed, with the help of attractive solicitor Rhianna, who even agrees to go for a drink with him.

Bleak Hackney accompanied by Brian Eno

Dushane’s former ally Sully is scrabbling around to brutalise his way to small amounts of

Vincent (Benedict Wong) in C4's Top Boy 2
Drug dealer Vincent terrorises Gem

cash, in cahoots with violent Mike. But even if Dushane misses his old mucker, Sully is strictly small time.

This second instalment of Top Boy picks up where the first, Bafta-nominated, series left off. It’s written by novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett (Hidden, Public Enemies), a resident of Hackney whose tale here has a proper feel for the borough and its rough side.

In modern TV dramas council estates are shorthand for ‘chavs’ and lawlessness, and certainly those featured in Top Boy are bleak, with a score by Brian Eno rubbing in the starkness of it all. But not all of Bennett’s characters turn to gang culture as a means of escape, and that’s what makes the drama a rewarding experience.

Escaping the Summerhouse Estate gangs?

Ra’Nell’s story is again contrasted with those of Dushane’s and the gang members, as he attempts to keep his head down while furthering his prospects as a footballer. His mother, Lisa, has turned a corner after her nervous breakdown and is now running her own hairdresser’s.

Michael, Navaeh and Nafisa in C4's Top Boy 2
Michael, Navaeh and Nafisa

But his friend Gem is in the clutches of a Chinese drug dealer, and his plight threatens to submerge Ra’Nell too. From 12-year-old budding rapper Michael to the other young members of Dushane’s crew, such as Nevaeh and R’Marni, this is the story of the youngsters in a hazardous urban setting.

Ronan Bennett has seen drug-dealing ‘tinies’ near his home and he has spoken to them, and Top Boy is a judgement-free portrayal of these kids, their attitudes, ambitions and relationships – good, bad and ugly. It’s in turn dismaying, raw, frightening and sometimes funny.

Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson and David Hayman

Ashley Walters, once of Grange Hill and So Solid Crew, has the charisma to be a believable gang leader, while David Hayman oozes menace as Joe. Kane Robinson as Sully holds his own

Gem and Ra'Nell in C4's Top Boy 2
Gem and Ra’Nell

as Dushane’s equal, while the young cast members (with Malcolm Kamulete as Ra’Nell and Giacomo Mancini as Gem) all feel authentic.

By the end of the first episode, the overarching crime storyline takes a shocking twist, ensuring that events are starting to spin out of Dushane’s control.

Apparently, a third series is in the pipeline, which is good news. C4’s drama renaissance is helping to expunge memories of its past reality horrors such as Big Brother and The Man with 10-Stone Testicles. Top Boy is a mark of the channel’s new-found thirst for originality and bold drama commissioning, following on from recent successes Utopia and Southcliffe.

Cast: Ashley Walters Dushane, Kane Robinson Sully, David Hayman Joe, Paul Anderson Mike, Sharon Duncan-Brewster Lisa, Giacomo Mancini Gem, Malcolm Kamulete Ra’Nell, Shone Romulus Dris, Lorraine Burroughs Rhianna

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Sherlock, Luther and Top Boy

• American readers of this site may be cheered by the news that Luther series 2 has just been released on DVD in the US. It’s already out in the UK, but here’s a gratuitous reminder of the rather chilling series, for which Idris Elba was nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe, but did win the CWA Crime Thriller TV Dagger in October.

• I have to admit my prejudice got the better of me. These days a new cracking drama on C4 is about as likely as George Papandreou being on Nicolas Sarkozy’s Christmas card list. So the channel’s Top Boy four-parter completely slipped by me. That’ll teach me to assume C4 was all documentaries with titles such as My Daughter’s Got an Anus on Her Head. It concludes tomorrow (Thursday) at 10pm, but if you’ve missed the first three you can catch them online on 4 on demand. Top Boy is a gem of a drama, delving into the gang culture on an East London estate. Thirteen-year-old Ra’Nell is plunged into the adult world, particularly that of the gangs, when his mother has a breakdown and is hospitalised. Heather, his mother’s friend, then involves him in her plan to give her unborn baby the chances she missed, which, needless to say, is a bit on the risky side. At times tender, at other times brutal, Top Boy is written by Ronan Bennet, whose Hidden concluded so disappointingly on BBC1 last week after a promising build-up. Here’s hoping that Top Boy follows through on the huge promise of its opening episodes. C4 have even put together an interesting website for the drama.

• The BFI has a fantastic treat next month – previews, with the casts, of the Beeb’s new series of Sherlock and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is on Tuesday 6th, 6.15pm, and Drood, with Matthew Rhys, is on Wednesday 7th at 6.20pm.

Hidden with Philip Glenister PREVIEW

Thekla Reuten, Philip Glenister and David Suchet. Pics: BBC/Origin

Rating ★★★

BBC1 from Thursday, 6 October, 9pm 

It must be a sign of scandal-plagued times that TV is getting paranoid. Hidden is the third in a recent sequence of absorbing conspiracy thrillers following Exile and The Shadow Line, and is at least as good as its predecessors.

It’s a murky piece of noir with dark streets, a femme fatale and a dodgy hero, played very believably by a brooding Philip Glenister. He is Harry Venn, small-time solicitor suddenly confronted by ghosts from his past.

He gets a visit from a mysterious lawyer, Gina Hawkes (Thekla Reuten), who is representing an old mate of Harry’s, Steve Quirke. Steve wants Harry to find another old chum – and criminal – by the name of Joe Collins.

Harry Venn – out of his depth?

Scandal for the Prime Minister, riots on the streets
Trouble is, most of these of former mates of Harry’s were involved in his own criminal past, for Harry is a solicitor with a lot of baggage. When he visits Steve in the nick events turn surreal, with Steve telling Harry he’s recently Hillman. Harry is angry to hear this because Hillman’s body was identified in a morgue many years before.

The action intercuts with a robbery from their younger days that went disastrously wrong, with Hillman and Harry’s brother both ending up dead, along with two policemen getting shot. Harry was the getaway driver.

While Harry’s head is spinning with his commission from the elusive Gina – who’s promised him £20,000 to find Collins – in the background are political scandals revolving around the Prime Minister, Brian Worsley, and riots on Britain’s streets.

It’s a terrific story from Ronan Bennett, who also wrote the Johnny Depp biopic about John Dillinger, Public Enemies. Night-time London is startlingly filmed, and Glenister moves up a gear from his recent indelible roles in Mad Dogs and Ashes to Ashes.

Drug taking, bribes and burglary
Harry Venn is a far more gritty performance. He’s man on the edge who sleeps with his ex-wife, is insulted by his son, takes cocaine, smokes dope and is willing to bribe and burgle his way to finding out who Gina Hawkes is really working for.

Gina meets Harry in a London hotel

But he is also a sharp operator. Asking a hotel employee how much he wants to allow Harry to snoop round Gina’s hotel room, he is told £500. ‘Let’s split the difference and call it 30 quid,’ Harry replies.

There is a nicely menacing scene between Harry and Gina’s doctor, and events finally turn very disturbing for the solicitor.

It’s a four-parter, with David Suchet joining the story after the opening episode as Sir Nigel Fountain. While it is always tricky to judge a series after one episode, Hidden was so good it already looks like one of the best crime dramas of the year.

Cast: Philip Glenister Harry Venn, Thekla Reuten Gina Hawkes, David Suchet Sir Nigel Fountain, Anna Chancellor Elspeth Verney, Mark Powley Mark Venn, Mark Flitton Paul Hillman, Thomas Craig Fenton Russell, Richard Durden Dr Sturgess, Richard Dormer Frank Hanna, Peter Guinness Jason Styles, Paul Ritter Steve Quirke, Lisa Kay Lauren

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