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).

The Honourable Woman, BBC1, Maggie Gyllenhaal

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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Best Crime Dramas on British TV 2011

2011’s TV crimespree blew away the previous year’s good, but not overwhelming, caseload of crime dramas and thrillers. This selection is based on shows that had some heart and emotional depth, rather than the mainstream of whodunits and procedurals. But by all means, fire off your disagreements and preferences in the comments section at the end…
(Pics: BBC, ITV, C4, BSkyB, FX, 5USA)

Michael C Hall as Dexter

10 Dexter series 5 FX (UK)
This was probably Dexter’s best outing since series one. It began with our serial killer protagonist in crisis, with his wife, Rita, murdered and his baby son discovered in a pool of her blood, which eerily echoed Dexter’s own childhood trauma. The emotion-less Dexter is disconcerted, perhaps even moved a little, because by being with him, Rita – who thought she was ‘getting a real human being’ – has ended up butchered. The complications mounted for Dex, with his step-sister perplexed by his behaviour and his trying to deflect Lumen Pierce, whom he rescued from another serial killer, from seeking revenge. The conceit of novelist Jeff Lindsay’s creation – serial killer as hero – should not work, but the black humour, the pathos, the character’s deadpan voiceovers and Michael C Hall’s performance makes this an unmissable and original series.
Highlight: Dexter giving Rita’s family and kids the dreadful news that she’s been murdered – but being so disengaged that he forgets to take off his Mickey Mouse ears while doing so.

Jamie Bamber as DS Devlin

9 Law & Order: UK series 4 and 5 ITV1
L&O: UK is now such a staple for ITV1 that we’ve had two series of it this year. The spin-off from the original US series earns its place here for its consistently good and tightly packed one-hour dramas, which frequently end on an ambivalent note. The stories also cover tough subjects, crimes by children, a gun rampage or killings by negligent doctors, for instance. The fifth season saw Dominic Rowan and Peter Davison joined the legal side of the cast, while the compelling tales continued without let-up. Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber have been excellent as the chalk-and-cheese detective sergeants, though sadly it looks as though that partnership has come to an end. Lead writer Emilia di Girolamo injected plenty of emotional impact into the last series, and finished it with a stunning cliffhanger…
Highlight: has to be the finale of series five, when DS Matt Devlin was shot outside court.

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie

8 Case Histories BBC1
Novelist Kate Atkinson is not solidly in the crime genre camp, and this hugely enjoyable series caught the narrative quirks, mystery and humour of her writing brilliantly. Jason Isaacs, in a sharp contrast to his American persona in the gangster series Brotherhood, was the engaging and vulnerable tough guy Jackson Brodie, who gets dragged into the world of the Land sisters by Sylvia Syms’s missing moggy. The sisters want Jackson to look into the fate of their missing sister, who vanished 30 years before. Edinburgh is the beautifully shot backdrop, and the cast, including Amanda Abbington as the tough cop with a soft spot for the wayward Jackson, was wonderful.
Highlight: any of Jackson’s scenes with his young daughter, Marlee (Millie Innes).

Janet Leach (Emily Watson) accompanies Fred West (Dominic West) to a murder site

7 Appropriate Adult ITV1
Dominic West showed what an accomplished star he is with this unexpected performance as the one-man horrorshow that was real-life serial killer Fred West. It was controversial, but still a haunting and unforgettable dramatisation from the award-winning team that revisited the Yorkshire Ripper and the Moors murders on the small screen. Confronting such revolting crimes in a drama is a way of attempting to gain modest perspective on them, but Appropriate Adult ultimately reinforced the feeling that such killers are beyond our understanding. Written by Neil McKay, the drama cleverly approached the horrendous story from an oblique angle, that of housewife Janet Leach, who was the required Appropriate Adult brought in to chaperone the apparently below-averagely intelligent West – a powerful performance by Emily Watson.
Unforgettable moment: Janet Leach’s uncomprehending expression as West tells detectives about his crimes.

Will Sully be a Top Boy?

6 Top Boy Channel 4
Channel 4 is not a top producer of crime dramas, but if it only makes one a year that is as potent as Top Boy then it will be worth waiting for. A four-parter that took a hard look at inner-city drug and gang culture, our escort into this world was 13-year-old Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), whose mother is hospitalised after a breakdown. The programme caught the pressure on young men such as Ra’Nell to ally themselves with gangs for status, but the price exacted by the likes of Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) – both also desperate to be top boys, despite the huge risks – was unflinchingly shown.
Highlight: Raikes telling Dushane he has to give up Sully to the Feds. Reality bites…

5 The Field of Blood BBC1
Based on a Denise Mina novel, this was a gem of a drama that the Beeb seemed almost embarrassed to put out for some reason (10.15pm, Monday night?). But it got a lot of things right. The characters, particularly young Jayd Johnson as Glasgow newspaper ‘copyboy’ Paddy Meehan, were believable and sympathetic, and the 1980s were as sexist and rocking musically as many would have remembered them. David Morrissey played the bullying editor with a heart, and Peter Capaldi was excellent as the old hack. And the story of a young woman with ambitions beyond marriage and a crap job who sets out to discover the truth behind a child murder that has implicated her 10-year-old cousin was captivating. Someone should commission more dramas based on Mina’s novels.
Highlight: Paddy’s character-defining punch-up in the ladies with glamour-puss reporter Heather.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky

4 Boardwalk Empire series 1 & 2 Sky Atlantic
Few dramas have the scope and ambition of this HBO epic. From the mega-budget opening episode, it’s been an engrossing attempt to revisit an extraordinary period in American history. Steve Buscemi has been mesmerising as Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the brazenly corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City, whose policy is less Prohibition than anything goes. Melding real historical figures – politicians, government agents and gangsters such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano – with the sweep of the jazz age backdrop has brought this age of political madness vividly to life. And it’s been extraordinary watching the performances of two Brits in the cast – Kelly Macdonald as Margaret, Nucky’s mistress, and Stephen Graham as Capone, who doesn’t look remotely Neapolitan but in every episode appears about to erupt like Vesuvius. It’s won a glut of awards, including eight Emmys, and will return for a third series.
Highlight: the whole of the opener directed by Martin Scorsese – a kaleidoscope of music, partying and corruption.

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan

3 Justified series 2 5USA
The second series may have had the edge over the terrific first series, with a strong story arc that saw gun-happy deputy US marshal Raylan Givens facing off with Dixie mafia boss Mags Bennett and her vile sons. The magic of the series, drawn from a character created by the crime writers’ crime writer, Elmore Leonard, is that the setting – a rural Kentucky mining town – is fresh and well depicted, with its clans and bonehead villains and good ol’ boys. However, while Mags (an Emmy-winning performance from Margo Martindale) may have been surrounded by boneheads in her clan, she was sadistic, menacing and well-mannered all at the same time. Timothy Olyphant was again laid-back and almost as cool as Paul Newman in the title role, while Natalie Zea as his on-off-on other half added glamour and attitude. Nick Searcy as Raylan’s put-upon boss, Art Mullen, gave the show heart and a lot of laughs. Series three will be racked and ready in 2012…
Highlight: the deadly confrontation between Raylan and Mags’s son, Coover.

Watch your back – The Shadow Line

2 The Shadow Line BBC1
In a strong year for conspiracy thrillers – Hidden, Exile, Page Eight – Hugo Blick’s The Shadow Line stands out. Great cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea, Rafe Spall, Kierston Wareing, Antony Sher – in a creepy and dark story featuring a trio of psychos to give you nightmares. Stephen Rea was unforgettable as the puppetmaster Gatehouse, Rafe Spall pulled off the best nut job since Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, and Freddie Fox simpered as the morally blank Ratallack. Kierston Wareing, who seemed to appear in just about every good crime show this year from The Runaway to Top Boy, was terrific as the sexy, acid-tongued detective sergeant Honey. Blick’s wordy scenes and extraordinary characters created a drama that was not realistic, but felt like a nightmare of foreboding. Midsomer Murders this was not.
Highlight: the moment when Gatehouse finally catches up with the mysterious Glickman, played by Antony Sher. What an amazing showdown.

Bloody business for Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl)

1 The Killing series 1 BBC4

It has to be. There had been subtitled crime series around – the Swedish Wallander, for instance – but The Killing, tucked away on BBC4, took everyone by surprise, including the Beeb. It notched up more viewers than Mad Men, set blog comment boxes buzzing (CrimeTimePreview was inundated with feedback from adoring viewers), and showed that mainstream US and UK formats – murder, neat resolution by detective – often lacked any emotional impact at all. This 20-parter did not use the disappearance and murder of teenager Nanna Birk Larsen as a plot device to kick off a voyeuristic mystery, but explored the horrendous emotional shock of the crime on her family and on detective Sarah Lund. The show wasn’t perfect, being over-stretched with red-herrings, but its dark intrigue and whole-hearted performances from the unknown cast (in Britain, at least) – Sofie Gråbøl, Søren Malling, Lars Mikkelsen, Bjarne Henriksen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen – made viewers fascinated with all things Danish and guaranteed a bunch of awards, including a Bafta and several CWA Crime Thiller Daggers.
Highlight: the way Sarah Lund’s initially frosty relationship with her blunt instrument of a colleague, Jan Meyer, evolves silently and without histrionics, so that when Meyer is murdered the moment is  shocking and sad.

Near misses
Single-Handed, Braquo, Spiral, Romanzo Criminale, Garrow’s Law, Exile, Mad Dogs, Martina Cole’s The Runaway, Sons of Anarchy
Way off-target
Ringers – dafter than a very daft thing. Silent Witness – gratuitous and voyeuristic.
Damp-squib send-off
Spooks – wiped out by ill-judged decision to schedule it against Downton Abbey. Deserved better.
Letdown of the year
Hidden – started really well, but final episode was such a disappointment.

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CWA Crime Thriller Award winners 2011

Sofie Gråbøl collects her best actress award for The Killing. Pics: ITV

And the winners were…

Idris Elba

(also nominated: Luther, The Shadow Line, Vera, Zen)

Film Dagger TRUE GRIT
(also nominated: Brighton Rock, Source Code, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest)

Best supporting actress ANN ELEONORA JORGENSEN The Killing
(also nominated: Amanda Abbington, Case Histories; Tara Fitzgerald, Waking the Dead; Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire; Ruth Wilson, Luther)

Best supporting actor RAFE SPALL The Shadow Line
(also nominated: Aiden Gillen, Thorne; Bjarne Henriksen, The Killing; John Lithgow, Dexter; Soren Malling, The Killing)

International TV THE KILLING
(also nominated: Boardwalk Empire, Castle, Dexter, Spiral)

Best actor IDRIS ELBA Luther
(also nominated: Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire; Jason Isaacs, Case Histories; Lars Mikkelsen, The KIlling; Rufus Sewell, Zen)

Best actress SOFIE GRABOL The Killing
(also nominated: Brenda Blethyn, Vera; Sue Johnston, Waking the Dead; Maxine Peake, Silk; Kelly Reilly, Above Suspicion; Olivia Williams, Case Sensitive)

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger SJ WATSON Before I Go to Sleep
(also nominated: Sam Hawken, The Dead Women of Juarez; Danny Miller, Kiss Me Quick; Conor Fitzgerald, The Dogs of Rome)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger STEVE HAMILTON The Lock Artist
(also nominated: Craig Smith, Cold Rain; SJ Watson, Before I Go to Sleep; Michael Gruber, The Good Son)

CWA Gold Dagger TOM FRANKLIN Crooked Letter
(also nominated: AD Miller, Snow Drops; Denise Mina, The End of the Wasp Season; Steve Hamilton, The Lock Artist)

ITV3 People’s Bestseller Dagger PETER JAMES
Peter James was also inducted in the Hall of Fame along with David Baldacci, Mark Billingham, Lee Child and Peter Robinson

Law & Order: UK’s Bradley Walsh and host Marcus Brigstocke

The Killing (Forbrydelsen) triumphed at the CWA Crime Thriller Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London last night, picking up the awards for best international crime drama, best actress and best supporting actress.

The Danish cast were there in force and were popular winners. Sofie Gråbøl – looking very elegant without her Shetland jumper – even received a standing ovation in parts of the room.

As a member of the Academy of British Crime Writing, I voted for that magnificent 20-part drama, which stunned viewers and was a runaway surprise hit for the Beeb when it went out on BBC4 at the start of this year. It was up against terrific nominees in the international category such as Boardwalk Empire, Dexter and Spiral, but fully deserved to win.

Idris Elba was another popular winner for Luther, picking up what he said was his first award in the UK. A nod went to the year’s best conspiracy thriller, The Shadow Line, as Rafe Spall collected the best supporting actor Dagger for his role as the disturbing killer.

Sofie Gråbøl and CrimeTimePreview’s dumbstruck correspondent. Pic courtesy of Ali Karim

Sofie Gråbøl made a huge impression on one member of the audience – me. Sadly, I was too starstruck to congratulate her (apologies, Sofie).

I did manage to get some words out when I met author Peter James, and he got round to talking about his love of racing motor cars. He was beaming after beating Lee Child, David Baldacci and the other bestselling Hall of Famers to to ITV3 People’s Dagger.

ITV3 is showing the whole event on Tuesday at 9pm.

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

• Crime Zapper – The Shadow Line, The Killing, Midsomer Murders, Raymond Chandler •

• The Beeb has announced a fine cast for its new conspiracy thriller, The Shadow Line. The seven-part drama will star Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Endgame), Christopher Eccleston (Lennon Naked, Doctor Who), Sir Antony Sher (The Wolfman, Primo, God on Trial) and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, Breakfast on Pluto).
It starts with discovery of a body, shot at close range, that turns out to be that of Harvey Wratten, a major UK crime boss. Harvey was just out of jail after serving two years of an 18-year sentence, having obtained a rare Royal pardon. Investigating the death is DI Gabriel (Ejiofor), who has just returned to duty after being shot in a bungled police operation. He now has a bullet lodged in his brain and suffers from amnesia. On the other side is Joseph Bede (Eccleston), a Wratten associate who turns his back on his legit business for one last massive drugs deal. As Gabriel investigates the intrigue gets more complex and all the players’ motivations blur.
The BBC2 series, scheduled for later this year, has been written by Hugo Blix, who says, ‘The Shadow Line is about a murder investigated by both sides of the line – cops and criminals – and the opposing methods they use to solve it. But the real line is the morality within each character and how far they will go before they cross it.’  
Also starring: Rafe Spall (Pete Versus Life, Desperate Romantics, He Kills Coppers), Kierston Wareing (Fish Tank, The Take, Five Daughters), Lesley Sharp (Afterlife, Clocking Off), Sean Gilder (Shameless), Freddie Fox (Worried About the Boy), Malcolm Storry (The Knock), Richard Lintern (The Bank Job), David Schofield (The Take, Pirates of the Caribbean), Stanley Townsend (Zen, Sherlock Holmes) and Eve Best (The King’s Speech, Nurse Jackie). 

• Tucked away on Saturday nights on BBC4 is The Killing, a first class crime series from Denmark. It follows the course of a 20-day murder investigation, and begins with Sarah Lund looking forward to her leaving-do at the Copenhagen police department. She is moving to Sweden with her son and fiancé. However, her plans are shattered when, on her last day, she checks out a missing teenage girl, Nanna Birk Larsen, who is found raped and murdered, and Sarah is forced to head the investigation. It’s a powerfully told story, atmospheric, with strong, believable characters. Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah is a down-to-earth, quietly impressive protagonist and far more realistic than, say, DI Anna Travis in ITV’s Above Suspicion. The whole, terrific series is currently available on BBC iPlayer.

DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon). (Pic: (C) Bentley Productions)

• So farewell, Tom Barnaby. Having solved more than 200 murders in the crime-ravaged villages on his Midsomer beat, the detective – played, of course, by John Nettles – bowed out on 2 February watched by 7.1m viewers. The 67-year-old actor’s final line was, ‘What now? I’m going to have my cake and eat it.’ Midsomer Murders, a valuable brand overseas for ITV, won’t be laid to rest, though. Tom Barnaby is being replaced by his cousin, John (former Life of Riley actor Neil Dudgeon), who appeared in Nettles’ final two-hour episode. Meanwhile, are Taggart‘s days numbered? It got off to a shocking start on ITV last month, with just 2.6m viewers. Even allowing for the fact that the episode had already been shown in Scotland, that’s not healthy for the UK’s longest-running crime series.

• I enjoyed A Coat, a Hat and a Gun, BBC Radio 4’s documentary about Raymond Chandler, which is accompanying the Philip Marlowe dramatisations this month. One gem in it was a 1958 snippet of a recording of a tipsy Chandler talking to Ian Fleming, an admirer of his, for a BBC programme months before he died. It is apparently the only record of Chandler speaking. He mentions the possibility of Marlowe getting married and the ‘struggle’ he would have to wed a woman who found his profession seedy. Was Chandler being playful? Judge for yourself. The BBC has the whole discussion here.

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