TV COLUMN: Line of Duty, Broadchurch, First Blood

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television...
James Waller-DaviesJames Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

There is a case to be made for Line of Duty (BBC1) being regarded as the best of the Beeb’s police procedurals of the last twenty years – possibly its best drama of the period, full-stop.

Back for its fourth series this week, Line of Duty has lost nothing with age and if the blistering pace, intrigue and gory cliff-hanger of the first episode are anything to go by, this will be the best series yet.

Refreshing the cast is the key to longevity and the arrival of Thandie Newton as DCI Roz Huntley has added a touch of class.

Newton, already an international film star in her own right, with movies as diverse as Mission Impossible II, Crash and Run Fatboy Run under her belt, has most recently been starring as the robot brothel madam in the hugely acclaimed HBO Westworld.

The opening half set Roz Huntley up as the archetypal corrupt officer, more interested in personal achievement than the letter of the law. Investigating Huntley is DC Kate Fleming, played again by Vicky McClure.

McClure, who staggeringly is still only 33 and has her own string of award winning performances behind her, is a perfect foil for the sophistication of Newton. The modern female professional interplay has made the fading Prime Suspect 1973 seem very dated already.

The last two minutes flipped the entire episode and left Huntley waking to a machine saw about to dismember her body from the head down. Huntly went from baddie to victim in the blink of an eye.

Line of Duty is going to hit ITV’s Vera hard. Once again the canny 9pm scheduling by the BBC makes the +1 channel hop to ITV impossible to catch up on Vera’s 8pm start.

Much more slowly paced but no less gripping is Broadchurch (ITV), which once again picks at the scab on the surface of the picturesque seaside crime spot.

Broadchurch has developed characters over three series now adding a recognisable sense of the grotesque to the community. Story arches from the first two series are still present and series three is moving towards a resolution of them all.

There are rumours of a fourth series, but it’s hard to see what more can done. It must also be difficult to continue to get actors as in demand as Olivia Coleman and David Tennent together at the same time.

Broadchurch is to ITV what Line of Duty is to the BBC. For audiences, it’s a golden age of police drama.

If there’s any criticism, it is that both centre on the attack of women – just as Prime Suspect 1973 too – and continues to promote the notion of ‘woman as victim’. It’s in danger of becoming a lazy and clichéd trope and a bit more imagination in the writing would be good in future.

First Blood (ITV4) got another airing this week. Later renamed Rambo: First Blood, the film is hugely under-rated. One of the first Hollywood films to tackle the subject of war veteran post-traumatic stress, it mistakenly became a byword for the moral panic violet videos in the early 1980s.

Sylvester Stallone created his second epoch-defining character in the guise of brain-scrambled Purple Heart winning psycho-soldier. Whereas Rambo’s later outings were gratuitous money-making violent farces, First Blood has depth and poignancy.

Brian Dennehy plays the antagonist small-town bullying cop perfectly. The music score and theme was written by Jerry Goldsmith – who, along with John Williams, appears to have scored just about everything in from the 1960s-1980s.

It’s hard to say whether First Blood was ahead of its time, or whether time just came around and caught up with it. But with the recent case of Marine A, Sergeant Blackman, in the news, First Blood raised issues that society continues to struggle to come to grips with. Wars which seemed a ‘good idea at the time’ soon become the ‘dirty little secret’ and the surviving soldiers can be as much the victims as anyone else.

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