Matt on the Box: Line of Duty, The Secret, Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion and Flowers

by | May 1, 2016 | All, Reviews

Welcome once again to a look back at the week’s TV with this latest instalment allowing me to wax lyrical about one of the best ninety minutes of drama that I’ve ever seen.

Of course I’m talking about the final episode of Line of Duty which was allotted a running time of one and half hours which I personally felt flew by. We already knew we were in for a treat in the finale after the denouement of episode five saw the murder of the fabulous Lindsey Denton (Keeley Hawes) at the hands of the series’ main antagonist ‘Dot’ Cottan (Craig Parkinson). The look on Dot’s face at the end of episode five showcased the look of fear of a man who’d finally got blood on his hands after years of getting others to do his dirty work. Going into episode six it felt like Dot couldn’t possibly get away with the murder especially as Lindsey was able to text Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) a copy of Danny Waldron’s list of child abusers before being shot in the head. However writer Jed Mercurio convincingly narrated the story of Dot’s continued plan to frame the unlucky Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) as the mysterious Caddy. The build up to Steve’s predictable arrest was well executed however what really made this Line of Duty finale memorable were the two extended interview sequences which took up about half the overall run time. If you’d have told me that I would be gripped at watching five people in a room looking at various pieces of evidence on a  video screen I would’ve laughed at you. But there’s something about the way the tension builds up in these scenes which is enhanced by the way Mercurio has built up the various relationships between the characters over the past three series. Both interview sequences also had different tones to them with Steve’s interrogation allowing the audience to sympathise with the man who was being set up to take the fall. However it was Dot’s interview that really had me on the edge of my seat as I was wondering whether Mercurio would let The Caddy slip through the net once again or if DCI Cottan would finally get his comeuppance. Praise for the intensity of these interview sequences must go not only to Mercurio but also to director John Strickland whose close-ups on the character’s faces adds an emotional nature to them. Strickland was also on hand to direct a thrilling final chase sequence in which Kate (Vicky McClure) attempted to chase down Dot and his henchman before they escaped once again. By the time this occurred I had journeyed of the edge of my seat and was pacing round the living room as we saw Kate here Dot’s dying words which finally meant that dodgy former DCI Patrick Fairbank (George Costigan) was to be charged with child sex abuse.

The fact that I’ve barely mentioned the child sex abuse storyline shows you how much this series of Line of Duty packed in and once again I think that Jed Mercurio deserves praise for tackling a controversial issue and putting it in a fictional setting. Using child abuse as the impetus for the original two murders committed by Danny Waldron would seem like a cheap tactic in certain situations but I think Line of Duty employed a gentle touch to the storyline which meant it never felt exploitative. A lot of the reason the child abuse storyline worked was down to the character of Joe and the performance of Jonas Armstrong who perfectly portrayed one of the former abuse victims at the Sands View Boys Home. Joe was used as the very human face of the lifelong trauma that child sex abuse can have and his violent vomiting after being shown a face of one of his former attackers was one of this series’ most powerful scenes. Additionally I liked how this story played into the way in which the PR department of the police works overtime to ensure that certain figures don’t get the comeuppance they deserve. The character of Gill (Polly Walker) has been great throughout the series, initially appearing as an ally to the AC-12 team before revealing herself more of a thorn in the side of the group. The final scene between Ted and Gill in which he talked about the selective arrests of historic child abusers felt very real indeed and had the perfect ending when we finally saw Patrick Fairbank being arrested for the offences he committed decades earlier. Patrick’s arrest was part of an end sequence which was the only element of the Line of Duty finale that spoilt it a little bit for me. Although each Line of Duty series has ended with a small epilogue in which subtitles inform us what happened to the major characters it does feel like a little bit of a cop out. For example the scenes of Patrick Fairbank’s trial made me wish that we’d seen more of it in the same way I’d long for a view at the original trial of Lindsey Denton. This overload of exposition did feel like something that Mercurio is better than however I did like the final scene in which we saw Ted, Steve and Kate all together still working as the team at AC-12. In fact I do think that it is these three characters and the actors that portray them who have made this series that Line of Duty has possessed thus far.

If you think about when the series started it was all about Danny Waldron’s armed defence team with the leader of the group pegged to be this run’s main antagonist. However when Waldron and fellow team member Rod Kennedy were both pronounced dead during the course of episode two the series changed direction. I felt it was a bold but ultimately smart move for Mercurio to focus on the relationship between the AC-12 team and finally bring down Dot after three series of him being the man who manipulated the action. I personally don’t think that another series of Dot pulling everybody’s strings would’ve worked even if he’d managed to make everyone believe that Steve was The Caddy. In particular I don’t think Kate would ever have the wool pulled over her eyes and indeed it was her undercover operation which finally spelled the end for Dot. One of my theories about Line of Duty is that it’s really a love story between Steve and Kate and the way they embraced after the former was freed showcased how much emotion there was between the two mates. This scene also made me realise how good McClure and Compston have become over three series and how they’ve allowed the audience to really get to know their characters. Whilst neither Steve nor Kate are whiter than white they both take their jobs incredibly seriously and Compston and McClure portray this perfectly. McClure deserves particular recognition for her action sequences in the final few moments of the episode as I felt she really demonstrated how great a physical performer she is. Furthermore I think Adrian Dunbar has proved to be the most undervalued player of the team as he provides the grounded force the show needs as the incorruptible Ted Hastings. That being said I didn’t really buy into the relationship between he and Gill although it was a necessary evil so that the final scenes between the pair had more of an edge to them. Another actor who deserves a mention is Craig Parkinson who managed to make dirty Dot seem almost likeable as his role as The Caddy was something he’d been groomed into at an early age.  Dot’s final redemption was the perfect end for the character whose dying words actually led to some good being done. The one question I have is what’s next for AC-12 as we know that the fourth series of Line of Duty is shooting later this year. If I were to hazard a guess I would say that AC-12 would be on the case of those who were pulling Dot’s strings however after these last six episodes I know now never to second guess what Jed Mercurio’s next move will be. One thing I do know is that Line of Duty is this year’s best British TV drama so far and at the moment I can’t see anything else even matching it in terms of quality.

Line of Duty wasn’t the only big show this week though as new drama was provided in the form of ITV’s based-on-real-events four-parter The Secret. The Secret is adapted by Stuart Urban from the book by Deric Henderson about a dentist and a Sunday School Teacher who killed their respective partners and made their deaths look like a suicide pact. As this is a four part series however this first episode basically saw the groundwork being laid for the majority of the drama which would occur later. What I found interesting about The Secret was the way in which the Baptist Community which lovers Colin Howell (James Nesbitt) and Hazel Buchanan (Genevieve O’Reilly) belonged to hand a hand in their decision to commit such a devastating act. Even when their affair was revealed quite early into the first episode, Colin’s dedication to his faith meant that he couldn’t bring himself to divorce his wife Lesley (Laura Pyper). The Baptist community is brilliantly represented through Pastor John Hansford (Jason Watkins) a judgemental sort who looks down on Colin and Hazel following their affair but at the same time helps counsel their respective marriages to the point of reconciliation. Unfortunately Colin and Hazel have a bond that can’t be broken and the rest of the episode sees them sneaking around their partners’ backs to the point where they concoct their murderous scheme. It also seems like perfect timing after Lesley’s father, who promised to give her money so she could leave Colin, drops dead whilst babysitting his grandchildren. The problem with true crime dramas such as The Secret is that when the main characters is a murderer it’s hard to find sympathy with them. The team behind The Secret have at least tried to make Colin seem charismatic by hiring the brilliant James Nesbitt which is a step-up from the casting misfire of Reece Shearsmith in the similarly-themed The Widower. Nesbitt is certainly able to believably portray his animal attraction to Hazel which is helped by the chemistry he has with O’Reilly. But I still found him an oddly cold character and I don’t think Nesbitt’s constant scheming grins to camera helped in my struggles to care about the character’s actions. In fact the most intriguing character was Pastor John who was made into a fully-rounded character by Jason Watkins who I would like to see more of as the drama continues. Unfortunately I’m not sure how much more of The Secret I can take as it seems that Urban is dragging out a story over four episodes that could easily be told in two. Whilst I can appreciate that this episode is mainly set-up for what’s to come there was nothing about Hazel and Colin that made me want to follow their next moves. In fact I would go as far as to say that everything that happened in The Secret was quite forgettable and besides the performances from Nesbitt and Watkins nothing else particularly stands out.

In fact I got more drama from this week’s big documentary that I did from The Secret but that’s primarily thanks to the subjects that were covered in the brilliant Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion. The documentary marks the start of an occasional series of documentaries which sees Louis return to the UK starting with this film that centred around the Liver Centre at King’s College Hospital in London. As is always the way with Louis Theroux films, the presenter will for the most part sit back and react to the action that unfolds him. However, unlike previous Theroux encounters, I felt that he got more emotionally involved than he normally does and I think Drinking to Oblivion was all the better for it. Along the way Louis met some interesting people all of whom were connected by the fact that they couldn’t part from their relationship with alcohol. For example there was Aurelie, a perfectly charming lady whose addiction to extremely strong cider means that she suffers from incredibly low self-esteem. This was perfectly exemplified through her relationship with her boyfriend Gary who treated her like rubbish and insulted her appearance. However the most memorable scenes in Drinking to Oblivion involved Joe, a bright chap with a promising career in medical educatn who seemed fairly normal. There was a scene early on in the film where Louis discovered that Joe had been in Guys and Dolls at school and the two sung a small snippet of ‘Luck be a Lady’. But later on we saw the extent of Joe’s alcoholism as he’d suffered another relapse after a break-up and the staff were trying to assess whether or not to keep him on at the unit. It was in this moment that Louis went from casual observer to almost a subject in his own film as he was on hand to hug Joe who looked like he was at his lowest ebb. There was a sense that Joe was on the road to recovery as the final meeting between the pair showed the young man off the booze and ready to start his life again. I feel what Drinking to Oblivion did was show that alcoholics aren’t just loud uncouth drunks who sit on a park bench and mouth off. Instead they’re people like Aurelie and Joe who have so much potential and so much to say but for one reason or another are addicted to alcohol. Ultimately I found Drinking to Oblivion to be yet another of Louis Theroux’s brilliant films that brought a human side to a subject that a lot of us feel we know about already. After seeing this excellent, thought-provoking film I’m already looking forward to what Theroux will be covering in his next UK-based film.

Finally we come to this week’s big new dark comedy or at least that’s what Channel 4 described the frankly bizarre Flowers as when they presented all of its six episodes over five nights. From what I can best deduce from the first two episodes of Flowers, writer Will Sharpe is attempting to create some sort of British version of Arrested Development. He’s certainly taken elements of the American show most notably a family full of eccentrics led by suicidal children’s author Maurice (Julian Barrett) whose family pile is in the middle of the countryside. Maurice is married to Deborah (Olivia Colman) who is constantly trying to put a brave face on things despite having a husband who doesn’t love her and two emotionally repressed children. Maurice and Deborah’s twins Donald and Amy (Daniel Rigby and Sophie Di Martino) are both in love with their neighbour Abigail (Georgina Campbell) however both don’t quite know how to show it. There are also a gaggle of characters surrounding the Flowers family including a sort of manservant played by Sharpe himself and Abigail’s awful plastic surgeon father George (Colin Hurley). What Flowers was missing for me was a sort of proxy for the audience to show us how truly awful the family are, similarly to what Jason Bateman did in Arrested Development. But Sharpe failed to create any sort of normal character and therefore I struggled to relate to anything that happened to this catalogue of quirky arty types who didn’t seem particularly well-drawn to me. Even the set pieces of the first two episodes, notably Deborah and Maurice’s engagement party and the death of Maurice’s mother, did little for me as their use of grotesquely-drawn humour has been done better elsewhere most notably in the work of Steve Pemberton and Reese Shearsmith. Despite the fact they were ill-served by a script that thought it was a lot cleverer than it was I felt the cast did well regardless. Olivia Colman did as much as she could with the material she was given and I at least found her character tolerable in small doses. Additionally I felt that Georgina Campbell did well in portraying the only normal character of the bunch in Abigail and I thought if she’d been more prominently placed in these first two episodes I may have watched more. But by the time Maurice’s mother had snuffed it at the end of the second episode I felt my time to depart the Flowers family had come as well as they’d struggle to make much of an impression on me over the hour that I’d spent with them. Although there were small flourishes of promise in Sharpe’s writing, I felt he over-egged the pudding too much with his characters being too over-the-top to care about and the situations far too outlandish to ever buy into.

That’s your lot for now remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I’ll see you next time for more of my views on the week’s TV.

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly


Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.


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