by Allan Fish
(UK 2011 399m) DVD1/2
Following the least line of resistance
p Johann Knobel, Charles Pattinson, Hugo Blick d/w Hugo Blick ph Tat Radcliffe ed Jason Razucki title song “Pause” by Emily Barker
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Jonah Gabriel), Christopher Eccleston (Joseph Bede), Kierston Wareing (Lia Honey), Stephen Rea (Gatehouse), Rafe Spall (Jay Wratten), Richard Lintern (Patterson), Robert Pugh (Bob Harris), Lesley Sharp (Julie Bede), David Schofield (Sgt. Foley), Antony Sher (Peter Glickman), Malcolm Storry (Maurice Crace), Eve Best (Petra Mayler), Clare Calbraith (Laura Gabriel), Freddie Fox (Ratallack), Tobias Menzies (Ross McGovern), Sean Gilder (Beatty), Stanley Townsend (Bulkat Babur), Ace Bhatti (Khokar), Charles Kay (Sir Richard Halton), Penny Downie (Caroline Monroe),
Perhaps it was the advertising or what I had come to expect; yet another gangster thriller at a time when British screen has been saturated with them, or even worse, another cop show just as Trevor Eve’s shouting in Waking the Dead had been put to rest. Yet here was a series borne out of something altogether different; the mood, the pacing, the eclectic cast, all far beyond the remit of the average crime genre series. And then there’s that enigmatic title, out of Conrad, which can mean what you want it to mean; the line between good and evil, the line of enquiry that you just know will be the end of you.
In the opening scene a body is discovered by police in the back of a car. We see this was no ordinary shooting but a gangland contract and the professionals are brought in to look into it. The victim, one Harvey Wratten, had just that day been released from prison after receiving a pardon, along with his psychotic nephew Jay. News eventually gets to the underlings inHarvey’s gang, who meet in his cover florist’s business. On one side we have Jonah Gabriel, cop not long out of a coma and with a bullet still in his head, trying to trace where the line of shooting really came from. On the other, Joseph Bede, a comparatively good man who just happens to be a crime lieutenant, wants to look into the killing but also wants out, organising one last drugs deal with which he can retire to look after his wife Julie, prematurely suffering from Alzheimer’s and deteriorating fast.
Essentially, that’s all it is, cops and crims alike looking for the truth but finding out that the truth is not always something you want to find out. What we have is not a simple crime drama but rather a spy drama masquerading as a crime drama. It’s like a gangland drama written by John le Carré, and like le Carré Blick’s greatest strength is not his handling of the ratcheting up of tension, but in his delicate handling of character and nuance. Every character, and also every performance, is given his chance to shine, lit up in the shadows as if by a car headlight.
There are no good guys and bad guys here, no black or white, merely various shades of grey, a colour scheme from hoary through charcoal. Ejiofor and Eccleston essentially play the two leads – in that they are the two whose personal concerns are described in most detail – but they are merely part of an ensemble. Both are superb, with Eccleston especially so, but savour those supports, from principal to vignette; Wareing’s sidekick, Menzies’ annoying reporter, the ever-reliable Townsend as a Turkish bigwig, Fox as the spoilt brat drug runner, Gilder’s customs officer. And amongst such glittering jewels, the uncannily brilliant Spall (Tim’s son) as the odious Jay, the wonderful Sher as the double life leading contact man, Schofield as another of his crooked cops, but so perfect in that delicious opening scene that he sets the tempo for the whole enterprise. Last, but definitely not least, there’s the principal adornment, the evil Gepetto pulling the strings, the extraordinary Stephen Rea as Gatehouse, an eminence grise for the 21st century and a foe worthy of George Smiley. Beautifully shot on the Isle of Man, despite a few plot illogicalities, it’s a helluva calling card for its writer-director, from the framing of a motorcycle smash-up and a delicious two-hander in a clock shop in Dublin to the small moments; Gatehouse’s locker number, a Judas tear falling onto a leather jacket, a straw knot held in the grip of a corpse.