The Shadow Line
The Shadow Line kicks off with the discovery of Harvey Wratten’s blood soaked body in the back seat of a car on a dark abandoned lot. Of the two cops who find it, one tries to tell the other it’s a robbery gone wrong. The other cop however, is closer to the truth in arguing that it’s a gangland execution.
What ever it is, we’re not going to find out for another seven hours. And to be honest, after the first hour, I’m not sure I can be bothered with watching another six episodes. The Shadow Line just hasn’t grabbed me.
Fortunately I decided to stick with it, and somewhere during the second episode, Hugo Blick’s dark, twisted drama grabs me and won’t let go. Written, produced and directed by Hugo, The Shadow Line starts off as a simple police drama, with a stella cast, but turns into a tour-de-force of British TV drama with many threads of different stories intersecting and combining to cumulate in one of the most unexpected endings you experience in any TV drama.
The murder at the beginning turns out to be a lot bigger than you think, and opens up a hornets nest of trouble, and introduces a variety of key players, each of whom seem to have their own interests in how things turn out.
Good cop with a shadowy past, DCI Jonah Gabriel (Chiwetel Ejiofor) seems to only want to uncover the truth, the dead mans business associate Joseph Bede (Christopher Eccleston) only wants to finish the deal and get out of the business, whilst the dead man’s psychotic nephew Jay Wratten (Rafe Spall) wants amongst other things, revenge. And then there is the puppet master, known as Gatehouse (Stephen Rea) who just seems to like being in control.
Throw these all together with a great cast of secondary characters, a plot that has more twists that a ball of twine, a body count that reminds you of George RR Martin and you have the recipe for what is probably the best British drama series ever produced.
Raf Spall is an absolute joy to watch as the crazy Jay who half drowns a stray cat, suffering the pain of a lacerated hand in doing so, just to prove a point to one of his associates. Stephen Rea’s controlled performance runs the risk of flat-lining but works amazingly well in this story driven drama, controlling ever scene he is in, and producing one of the most entertaining bad guys with a performance that feels like it would suite the sedate but mesmerizing classic spy novle/film; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
To sum up – before I start waffling too much – The Shadow Line proves that original TV is still possible, and highly entertaining. That acting is still an art form that can be attained, and that being unpredictable and sometimes shocking, should see Hugo Blick given creative freedom on future projects. At least I hope it does, because I’ll be lining up to see what he does next.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Read