As a late convert to superb police thriller Line Of Duty, I have to say that the steady murmur of hype and acclaim accrued over its first few series has been more than justified.
Revolving around internal investigations into corruption and crime at the heart of the British force, with each fresh season tackling a separate case, Jed Mercurio’s gripping drama has been drawing in millions of devotees each week despite being tucked away on BBC Two – and deserves an even bigger audience.
With its third series now approaching the half-way mark (and available to catch up with now), here’s why Line Of Duty is more than worth a watch.
The characters are utterly compelling
Let’s take Daniel Mays’ mysterious newcomer Sergeant Waldron as an example, shall we?
In the opening few minutes of the current season, Waldron commits an unspeakable act while on a major armed operation – and then bullies his colleagues into covering for him.
At first glance, Waldron seems like a calculating, manipulative and cruel psychopath. But are things really so straightforward?
In one of the most complex and fascinating sixty minutes of television I’ve ever watched, Line Of Duty builds a host of insights, interactions and hints around Waldron throughout that initial episode, to gradually challenge your assumptions – and suggest there is far more going on below the surface than you first deduce.
And that’s just one member of the quality ensemble cast. Don’t get us started on Keeley Hawes’ Lindsay Denton…
Its levels of intrigue are off the scale
While the key narrative hooks of the drama are often enough to keep you watching in and of themselves, it’s the little details that really add to the murky web of intrigue at the show’s heart.
The ‘canteen culture’ of coppers is brilliantly captured here; with whispered confessions behind closed doors opening up interesting new plot possibilities, while a closing of ranks at times leads to all manner of speculation as to what has really happened. Who do we believe? Whose version of events can we trust?
In the current series, we don’t know why one of the central police officers under suspicion is receiving mysterious packages and phone calls at home; nor why a seemingly likable member of the investigating team is apparently covering up certain evidence. Their motives, for now, remain a mystery.
It’s also fair to say that Line Of Duty rarely pans out in the same way other crime or police dramas typically do. Major developments, sudden plot shifts and key character deaths can occur at seemingly any point. There’s no set formula here. And it really keeps you on your toes.
Good and evil are relative
Moral lines have been blurred in dramas plenty of times before. But rarely are they blurred so frequently and thought-provokingly as in Line Of Duty.
Seemingly ‘bad people’ commit unsavoury acts for understandable reasons. Sympathetic ‘good guys’ over-step the mark with terrible consequences.
In a recent episode, Vicky McClure’s steadfast, upright and totally relatable undercover officer gambled on a dangerous ploy to move her current case along – only for it to seemingly lead directly to the death of one of the cops she’s investigating.
When noble motives can cause so much harm, and otherwise shady characters can surprise you with moments of empathy, the moral boundaries become intoxicatingly loose.
It takes British telly’s ‘weaknesses’, and turns them into strengths
Whereas major small-screen productions on the other side of the Atlantic typically take in a minimum of ten instalments per season – and sometimes as many as twenty-four – the paltry six episodes a show like Line Of Duty has to work with can seem inadequate by comparison.
And yet, the fact that there are distinctly fewer episodes per series allows for far more incident to be packed into each hour-long burst, and far less ponderous water-treading than some of its American counterparts.
Each episode is a finely executed balance that manages to propel the various plots along at breakneck yet satisfying speed, while also developing the characters through clever asides and visual moments (such as a senior officer pictured alone in an apparently tiny bachelor flat, having just mentioned he “needs to get home to the wife”), rather than drawn out, long-winded grandstanding and dialogue.
Equally, the lower-budget leads to a realistic, plausible focus on intimate interactions at work and in the home, as well as a sense of palpable claustrophobia.
The lack of epic scale and swooping helicopter shots actually works strongly in its gritty, down-to-earth favour.
Line Of Duty continues tonight on BBC Two at 9pm. Catch up with previous episodes now on iPlayer.