If you like gritty cop dramas that exceed expectations and keep the twists coming, Line of Duty is for you. Initially broadcast on the BBC, and available on Hulu in the U.S., Series 1 has recently been released on DVD. The two-disc set from Acorn Media includes all five episodes of the critically acclaimed series, plus a couple of extras.
Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston, Ice Cream Girls) is a hero. Though, not in the eyes of his department, which shuns him for refusing to participate in a coverup after an unarmed man is shot during a counter-terrorism raid gone wrong. But to the viewer, Arnott is a man to root for. Because of his troubles, Arnott is re-assigned to the anti-corruption unit headed by Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar, The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby).
Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (Lennie James, Low Winter Sun) is the opposite of Arnott. Decorated by his employer and frequently praised for his success rate, Gates is actually quite corrupt, and soon becomes the subject of Arnott’s investigation. Gates pretends to be a family man, but keeps a mistress, businesswoman Jackie Laverty (Gina McKee, The Borgias), on the side. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of his misdeeds, which extend into his work life as well as home. However, he is surrounded by a loyal team who protects him, which makes Arnott’s mission a difficult one.
Obviously, Line of Duty sets up Gates and Arnott to come in conflict, and true, that is one of the most central and most enjoyable aspects of the show. These are veteran, top notch actors who handle their scenes with aplomb. I could watch the series even if that’s all it was, two interesting characters repeatedly squaring off against one another.
There is much more present than that. Episode after episode, more layers are added, and more corruption is exposed. Each insignificant plot point is blown up to mean something so much more, and every character has a secret. A minor traffic offense can lead to something far more scandalous. For over three-hundred minutes, you will be confined to the edge of your seat, racked with tension over what might happen next.
And I haven’t even mentioned Detective Constable Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure, Broadchurch), a woman brought onto Gates’ squad for gender balance, and whose story is better left to be experienced, rather than told about.
Besides the compelling narrative, one of the draws of Line of Duty is that it seeks to give new meaning to the word “gritty.” The violence comes hard and fast, frequently erupting in very disturbing scenes. Line of Duty is not for the squeamish or faint of heart, setting a new bar in its genre, and certainly going further than most would expect to see on a standard television program. Given the tone and the quality, though, it enhances, not detracts, from the overall production.
The special features are a bit sparse for my taste.There is a forty-seven minute set of interviews with various people who work on the show, and that’s great. There are also ten minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. But two is a low number, and it would be interesting to get some audio commentaries to highlight specific happenings.
Overall, though, Line of Duty is a gripping thriller that I definitely recommend checking out. Having been a fan of James for awhile now, it’s great to see him in this, and the rest of the cast is also talented. The writing is sharp, and the show mostly stays realistic, albeit with heightened events for entertainment’s sake. It’s a solid series that should impress.
Line of Duty – Series 1 is available now.