19 June 2011
The Shadow Line is an ambitious seven part British crime drama written, produced and directed by Hugo Blick. It was first aired in May 2011 on the BBC and received mixed reviews from the Guardian's highly positive review and some glowing below the line praise at IMDB to absolute slatings by the Telegraph and The Arts desk.
The indications were good from the start with a lead role for one of my favourite British actors; Christopher Eccleston, an intriguing opening sequence and haunting title music from Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo.
The plot revolved around the murder of a notorious drugs baron and the parallel investigations into his murder by the police and members of the criminal underworld. The two central characters are DI Jonah Gabriel (played by Chitwell Ejiofor) and drug importer Joseph Bede (Played by Eccleston) never actually meet. Gabriel is put in charge of investigating the Harvey Wratten murder while Bede takes the initiative and attempts to pull of a huge heroin importation in order to retire from the game to care for his wife who is suffering from early onset Alzheimer's (played brilliantly by Lesley Sharp).
Stephen Rea put in a strong performance as Gatehouse, the ruthless and calculating killer at the heart of everything. Many of the critical reviews slated his performance however I found his character a truly sinister relentless and emotionless killer, not quite the calibre of Javier Bardem's portrayal of Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men but convincing enough for me.
Rafe Spall came in for some heavy criticism from the tediously smug and unbalanced review at the Arts Desk for his scenery chewing portrayal of Harvey Wratten's psychotic nephew Jay, however I found his acting quite enjoyable giving the early episodes a lot of colour. It is notable how his character calmed down as the series progressed towards the reveal involving Jay towards the end.
Another actor that came in for criticism was Richard Lintern who played Gabriel's superior officer, with this I agree, alongside Agni Scott's portrayal of Gabriel's mistress and Tobias Menzies portrayal of an investigative journalist that digs too deep, Lintern was one of the least convincing characters.
In my opinion the series had it's flaws, the plot wandered off implausibly on several occasions, to call it a touch unrealistic would be an understatement and there were a few sequences where the acting fell to bits, most notably the conversation between Gabriel's lover and his wife at the funeral of his lovechild that was caught in the crossfire during a confrontation between Gatehouse, Gabriel and Wratten's book keeper Glickmann (Played by Anthony Sher). I found the lack of visible emotion from both women remarkably unrealistic but bizarrely the scene that clearly stood out as the worst for me was the only thing that won unhedged praise from the hatchet job review at The Arts Desk.
Another thing that would me up about the terribly written, pretentious and sneering Arts Desk review was the fact that it didn't find space to even mention the camera work. Even if Blick's stark and often minimalist cinematographic style isn't your thing, failing to even mention it in a review shows that you must be so keen to give the show a kicking to make yourself look cool, that you can't even discern or describe one of it's key attributes. However given the fact that the Arts Desk reviewer started paragraphs with "But", overused "...." annoyingly and included this gem of terrible writing "The glib and sneering [Patterson] sneered glibly" I'm not surprised that he was utterly incapable of offering any useful views on the style and presentation of the series. For me the amazing quality camera work lifted the series way above the usual cop show drivel offered by British television and is the feature that will earn the show it's legacy (alongside the presence of Cristopher Eccleston of course).
To me the Wire is quite clearly the "gold standard" in crime drama and while the Shadow Line couldn't come close to it, no other crime drama since 2002 has either. I seem destined to suffer disappointment that every new crime series isn't as good as The Wire, however The Shadow Line was still seven hours of gripping and entertaining drama with an intriguing and labarynhine plot and countless wonderfully filmed sequences.
Overall review: 4 (what does this mean)