Review: Identity 1×1

Not going to be saving ITV1 any time soon

Keeley Hawes in Identity

In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, ITV1/ITV1 HD

I’d really like to be able to cheer on ITV. For years, it made some of the best dramas and comedy this country ever produced. Then it fell into a deep, dark hole which looked like it had no bottom. But under Michael Grade and Peter Fincham, it started to look like it had a future again and even began to put out some semi-decent programming.

I’d like to say that Identity, which stars as Ashes to Ashes‘ Keeley Hawes, The Wire/Queer As Folk‘s Aiden Gillen and Soldier Soldier‘s Holly Aird as a crack police squad dedicated to foiling identity thieves, is at the spearhead of ITV1’s resurgence, a gleaming piece of taught drama, intelligent plotting, realistic dialogue and plausible characterisation that any network could be proud of.

I’d like to.

When you find out where they’ve been, you’ll discover where they’re going…

Identity is a new six-part series which follows an elite police unit formed to combat the explosion of identity-related crime.

Keeley Hawes and Aidan Gillen star in writer Ed Whitmore’s drama which is here to tackle the darker side of reinvention: murderers who literally take other people’s lives, criminals who create new personas to escape evil pasts, impostors who look, talk and sound just like us but would kill you in a heartbeat.

The unit, lead by DSI Martha Lawson, (Keeley Hawes), works any case where making an identification is a significant part of solving the crime by outsmarting, hunting down and unmasking the modern day Jekyll and Hydes.

Lawson, who founded the organisation, also heads up the team and takes a gamble by hiring John Bloom (Aidan Gillen), the secret weapon of the Identity Unit.

Crucially, Bloom is an ex-undercover cop so he knows first hand what it’s like to pretend to be someone you are not. He’s also only too aware of how easy it is to lose your own identity when you’re living a lie…

Is it any good?
It’s painful to watch. Desperately, desperately painful. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. Sorry.

The basic problem is that this feels like a show written by someone who’s never ventured out of the house and whose only experience of life has been through watching TV shows and movies. Everyone talks in odd ways (“So you chose, somewhat disloyally, to leave your husband and take your children with you?” That’s not dialogue!), devotes big clumps of dialogue to explaining their backstory and generally acts like the nearest they’ve been to a cop is to stand next to a Simon Pegg Hot Fuzz cardboard cutout.

After a slightly promising start with a firearms team trying to take prisoner a former soldier who claims to be the victim of identity theft, things start to degenerate with the arrival Gillen, who’s been undercover for 15 years or something ridiculous. Hawes wants him for her unit because of his experience with false identities – somehow, she has a hunch, this will give him an instinct for sniffing out people with fake identities – but is getting cold feet BECAUSE HE’S A LOOSE CANNON.

Didn’t they go out of fashion in the 80s?

Gillen, who somehow manages despite his cop salary to have a skyrise, spacious apartment more or less overlooking the Gherkin, then has to help the ineffectual Hawes work out who keeps nicking people’s identities and then either murdering them or framing them for crimes in massively unlikely, unnecessary and stupid ways.

It soon becomes clear that our identity thief wants to be caught, is sloppy or has simply read the script and knows he has to be caught, because he keeps leaving clues about. Our heroes investigate, while Holly Aird explains the very basics of policing to them and what this whole “identity theft” thing is at every possible moment. This allows them to act unprofessionally, judgmentally going into people’s houses and treating them like dirt for having affairs. This lets them expose their Prejudices (because they don’t just have prejudices, they have Prejudices) and to hint at their dark, dark secrets that must never be revealed – until a few episodes from now, at least.

Eventually, all is revealed and none of it makes sense: who was it with the sniper rifle at the beginning or is that going to be revealed later? Why was weird bloke picking on people who were unfaithful? How did he get all these skills when he was just 16? Why is he leaving all these clues?

Indeed, even the central identity theft hook makes no sense: whenever it’s explained how someone’s identity has been stolen, it’s not a plausible, real-world mechanism. Online check-in for a plane flight without some form of password? Doesn’t happen. Able to pretend to be someone at 12 different addresses using just a utility bill? Not going to happen. And as soon as someone reports an identity theft these days, it becomes about a gazillion times hard to keep stealing it. It’s as though someone took a headline from five years ago and thought it was still relevant.

It’s all just silly.

There’s also a real problem when it comes to ‘place’. One minute Gillen is chasing the baddie around a school. Then he’s legging it round the back of the school. Then he’s suddenly running over Oxford Street towards Margaret Street. What? How? You can claim dramatic licence, but it’s not like Oxford Street is this unknown back alley in the middle of nowhere and there’s a giant comprehensive with massive walkways between Great Windmill Street and the Apollo Theatre that we’ve just not noticed.

Gillen, allowed to keep his Irish accent for once is good; Aird, despite having lost a little of her spark since Soldier, Soldier, is still a screen presence. But Hawes, not even plausible as herself in a Boots commercial, is even less plausible trying to put on a slight London accent; and the rest of the cast are just awful. The direction’s okay, if a little dispassionate and removed from the action. It’s basically the script that’s the real problem.

So I’m sad this is not a show that’s going to save ITV. I’m sad that Aiden Gillen has to play this white-suit wearing idiot rather than a decent character. But most of all, I’m sad I had to sit through an entire episode of it.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.