Categorised | UK TV reviews

Review: Line of Duty (BBC2) 1x1

Posted on July 2, 2012 | comments | Bookmark and Share

In the Line of Duty

In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, BBC2. Available on the iPlayer

Well, if I'm going to start watching UK dramas again, I guess BBC2 - and a drama written by Jed Mercurio and starring the wonderful Lennie James (from Jericho et al), no less - is a good place to start. Line of Duty is a police complaints procedural that looks at an investigation into a top cop's apparently spotless, amazing record to see how he manages it. Along the way, we get to see how the Met now deals with complaints - both officially and unofficially - while watching the police investigating themselves in a (to use a cliché) game of cat and mouse.

And while it's actually pretty good, there's a faint whim of the ridiculous throughout, to the extent you're sometimes not sure whether it's being serious, being deliberately funny or is simply having trouble taking itself seriously.

Here's a trailer followed by the first four minutes or so. You'll see what I mean about not knowing whether it's supposed to be ridiculous or not from the the second video.

About
Following one multi-stranded investigation over five hours, Line Of Duty sees Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) transferred to AC-12, a fictional anti-corruption unit, after a mistaken shooting during a counter-terrorist operation. Alongside Detective Constable Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), they are assigned to lead an investigation into the alleged corruption by a popular and successful officer, Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (Lennie James). While Gates cleverly manipulates his unit's figures, DS Arnott questions whether Gates's being made a scapegoat for a culture of institutionalised spin, or is guilty of darker corruption?

Writer Jed Mercurio says: "I'm hugely excited by the opportunity to set a drama in the controversial realities of 21st century policing. Line Of Duty is a commentary on the perverse bureaucracy that hamstrings frontline officers, but first and foremost it's a thriller.

"Lennie James is electric as DCI Tony Gates, a complex and elusive anti-hero, and a formidable antagonist for two of the most exciting young talents in British TV - Martin Compston and Vicky McClure - who play the relentless anti-corruption officers on his trail. Twists and turns are added by a star-studded cast including Gina McKee, Neil Morrissey, Adrian Dunbar, Kate Ashfield, Craig Parkinson and Paul Higgins."

Is it any good?
The first episode is an odd combination. The direction is serviceable, but derivative: shakycam that isn't quite shaky enough to give the impression of a documentary, but is shaky enough that you can't help but think it would have been better if they'd stuck the camera on a damn tripod.

Despite the once-excellent Mercurio being behind both the writing and the production, the first 10 minutes have some quite painfully bad dialogue and plotting that makes me think he hasn't quite recovered from his Strike Back experience. An anti-terrorist sergeant having to fill out the health and safety paperwork mid-raid? What a subtle way to make your point, Mr Mercurio.

Then there's that faint whim of ridiculousness. For example, when Adrian Dunbar, the head of the investigation unit who's out to get James, claims to know what discrimination is like because he's Catholic Irish, so he can't be racist, he says: "I'm blacker than anyone". Is that supposed to demonstrate how clueless the police can be or is it a serious line? I can't tell.

On the acting side, the lead, Martin Compston, is quite possibly the least charismatic person I've ever seen starring in a British drama - literally any other actor in the cast (particularly Vicky McClur) or possibly in the world would have been a better choice, to the extent that it's about as exciting watching him Googling as it to see him running an anti-terrorist operation. It's usually a fatal mistake to make the audience care about 20 times - maybe 21 times, just to be accurate - more about the criminal being investigated than the hero, but that appears to be the choice here.

We also have "and Neil Morrissey" (that's how he's credited for no good reason), Craig Parkinson from Misfits and Claire Keelan from No Heroics playing the comedy angle for all its worth, making it hard to take any of them seriously as the hardcore crime investigators they're supposed to be. Morrissey even has a walking stick. No, seriously. He points at things with it, too.

But to counter all of that, after those first 10 dismal minutes, the dialogue picks up. It becomes well paced and does have some good action scenes. Lennie James is fabulous, as is Adrian Dunbar and Gina McKee (last seen being wasted in Missing) delivers a lovely, subtle performance that plays with viewer expectations, just as her apparent b-plot with James does, ratcheting up the tension with every twist. It's also political, with cops showing off all their intriguing tricks for dodging investigative bullets, passing the buck and rigging the stats.

Line of Duty isn't exactly a masterpiece. It's not the new Between The Lines, either, but it's got a lot going for it and James is almost always worth watching, so give it a try.

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  • Lynn

    Why is this not on DVD

  • Seriously, is this series supposed to be a piss take, or what? It started out well and I really like Vicky McClure (who was wonderful in "Romeo Brass" and "This is England"), but the plot soon becomes utterly ridiculous, far fetched and completely unbelievable. It also lays on with a trowel the whole "police-are-so-hampered-by-paperwork-that-they-can't-even-do-their-noble-duty-protecting-the-public" thing. Come on...risk assessment when storming a threatening crime scene?! Look, we get the message, ok? You don't need to be quite so unsubtle about it. As for the acting, Lennie James is pretty good as Gates and there are one or two other decent performances, but Martin Compston is truly shocking! He is like a slab of mild cheddar. Charisma vacuum doesn't even come close - he can barely deliver a line without it sounding awkward, forced and (quite frankly) like he's reading it out in a bad school play. He is also clearly struggling with whatever peculiar accent he is desperately attempting to master. I got as far as episode four before giving up in the face of one absurd cliche after another (feral inner city kids terrorizing adults has been done to death now - please give us a break). Dear oh dear.

  • UlyssesJoyce

    Oh puleeze! This started quite well and then dumbed downwards. Remember everyone: when the plot MIGHT be getting too heavy 'wobble the camera about' AND when audience attention MIGHT be dropping off 'wobble the camera about A LOT!'. This guarantees they'll think they're watching something very exciting; even when there's no evidence of it. My Sony Xperia takes steadier shots than these camera operators are instructed to produce.
    The actors were very good and the script was quite good (I haven't read the book and didn't see what was cut - please forgive me). So, why-oh-why rollout the wobblicam 'all the time' to telegraph the important bits AND add 'too-loud' music in case we can't see very well. Thank Goodness for subtitles. BBC Productions, please give your cameras the freedom to demonstrate their skills to make steady pans and zooms so we don't feel queasy at the ten munute mark.
    Lastly, when you are running a pursuit, please cut the bits where a 'civvy' car overtakes the response cops.

  • Fido

    I absolutely loved the whole series - looked forward to it every week and am so sad it's now over - it was real 'edge of your seat' stuff and Lennie James was amazing. I agree with that person who suggested the writers do a Prequel next as doing the series without Lennie James is pointless. Thought actor who played Arnott was a bad choice, though he was annoying and irritating enough to fit the role very well in one sense....

  • StevieP

    Just caught up with the final episodes after my hols. I loved this little drama - great acting, great story lines and kept us almost guessing to the end. But what was with the appalling 'shaking' camera stuff? The camera work seemed to get worse towards the ending and was a real spoiler for me. Second series? Great - but shoot the thing in steadicam next time.

  • d4nc00per

    love it, make more!!!

  • Electric Dragon

    That scene in the police van was hard to make out. I had to put subtitles on. Basically it was

    <spoiler>Tommy: Alright, son, how do you suggest I play this hole?
    Cotton: Top brass think the Greek Street gang were involved with al Qaeda. Play along and you can get immunity.
    Tommy: Best caddy I ever had.</spoiler>

  • Maria

    Excellant series, couldn't miss an episode as Hugh says Quite simply the best drama that I have seen in ages. Real 'on the edge of your seat' stuff, well done BBC!

  • Gino in OZ

    I have seen the five episodes but due to the overwhelming sound track, missed all the important dialogue. So what the hell happened? Somebody please give an explanation of the final ten minutes. Gino in OZ.

  • launcelot

    I got hardly any of the dialogue involving Tommy in the police van at the end of episode 5. Anyone care to enlighten me?

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