Line of Duty, over the course of four series, has become one of the BBC’s biggest shows. Alongside the likes of Peaky Blinders and Call the Midwife.
With the return of the show for its fifth series, there is a higher than average expectation that the new series would be incredible and engaging. It not only matches all of those expectations but surpasses them – the opening episode of the new series is perfect in every possible way and delivers an extraordinary and engaging opening episode.
Beginning with the attack of a police convey by members of the “Balaclava Gang” transporting drugs, and the murder of three police officers we soon catch sight of the latest target for AC-12. Realizing that the only way the attack on the convoy could have occurred would be via police corruption, DS Arnott (Martin Compston), DI Flemming (Vicky McClure) and Superintendent Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) start their investigation by questioning the surviving officer PS Cafferty (Sian Reese-Williams) about the attack and discover that a woman within the gang (Rochenda Sandall) spared her life. Beginning to suspect that she is an undercover police officer, AC-12 ramp up their investigation which leads to the discovery that Police Constable Maneet Bindra (played with sympathy by Maya Sondhi) has been attempting to cover up the source of leaks and had been passing on information to the recently deceased ACC Hilton. As suspicions begin to rise in AC-12 it becomes clear that they are about to stumble upon something deep and dark.
To create a truly great drama it is important not only to ensure that your audience is invested in what they are seeing but also able to subvert them. If an audience becomes overly expectant, then this can perhaps suggest that the writer is complacent.
This can never be said of Jed Mercurio, who manages the difficult task of both meeting audience expectations for excellent drama whilst also creating a drama which somewhat breaks with the previous format of Line of Duty. By dividing this focus between AC-12’s usual investigations and the activities of the Balaclava Gang, we get to see in more depth the activities of the criminals who gain information and support from corrupt Police Officers. Mercurio is giving us answers as to how the gang operates in a way that wonderfully works with the story.
Similarly, the twists throughout this first episode only serve to make the audience further intrigued as to what will happen and Mercurio delivers them in a truly slick and sophisticated way; there are several clues planted throughout the first episode as to who the undercover police officer is but the information only falls perfectly into place at the end of the episode. Mercurio is also excellent at creating tension through subtle means such as the length of the time that it takes for the tape recorder to begin working at the beginning of Bindra’s interview and Corbett (Stephen Graham’s) pauses during his interrogation of Bindra. Techniques like these never overshadow the drama or constrict it but rather build on it in a way that allows it to be the best it can be.
The acting throughout the episode is phenomenal and serious praise has to be given to all three regulars. Martin Compston is always excellent as the driven Steve Arnott, always determined to get to the truth. Compston particularly plays Arnott’s feeling of loneliness and his continuing back problems from being thrown down a flight of stairs during the last series very well. Compston plays the scene when he is alone in his house with only his back-pain medicine and a dating app extremely well – we feel all of Steve’s emotions and sympathise utterly with how his career seems to have stalled and so negatively impacted on his life.
Vicky McClure perfectly plays Fleming and helps to demonstrate how Kate has evolved throughout the series excellently. Fleming’s personal life has become much more stable and her recent promotion gives the character greater authority and confidence that allow McClure to shine. She has, as Richard Burton once said of Elizabeth Taylor, the quality of stillness that is difficult to capture. This is self-evident in one short scene towards the end of the episode after Hastings declares that Hilton is H and as Fielding goes home, she looks at Hastings, standing in his office. The micro-expression that McClure expresses is perfect and truly sums up the place her character is in at the start of the new series.
Adrian Dunbar continues to be superb as Superintendent Hastings. The scene in which Hastings returns to his hotel is played with true desperation by Dunbar; Hastings is clearly putting a brave face on how he feels to everyone, including the receptionist at the hotel at which he’s staying, and Dunbar plays this inner sadness exceeding well. He also plays the sequence in which Hastings interviews Bindra exceedingly well – Dunbar evokes Hastings deep feelings of anger that one of his officers could be involved in organised crime and resentment that he trusted someone that betrayed is palpable throughout the scene and Dunbar plays this with a full-blooded rage. McClure and Compston’s playing of the scene are equally skilled – they both express their own sense of shock and regret at Hasting’s response.
Stephen Graham’s performance of Corbett is excellent. He projects menace through the slightest movements and facial expressions and exudes calm authority in every scene he’s in. His interrogation of Bindra is done in a coldly effective way and his playing of the final twist is done with perfect emotional resolution. Graham holds the audience focus in whatever scene he is in and his presence as an antagonist for AC-12 is welcome as he brings real weight to the role.
Rochenda Sandall’s turn as McQueen is equally excellent and her pairing with Graham gives the characters a dynamic and intriguing relationship. Sandall plays both McQueen’s both harder side and her inner guilt at what she’s doing brilliantly, and it is a credit to Sandall that she makes her character sympathetic regardless of the things she’s done and the activities she’s engaged in.
The direction by John Strickland is superb with Strickland fully utilising the spaces that he’s given. The attack on the convoy at the beginning of the episode is particularly well done with Strickland’s use of camera angles ramping up the tension and all of the scenes in the episode never drag; everything moves at the perfect pace to propel the story forward and to ensure that the script and the actors have a chance to shine.
The first episode of series five of Line of Duty is a rollercoaster of a ride and reminds its audience why the show is so loved – because it delivers engaging, original drama in a way that no other programme on television does. With the revelation about the undercover officer at the end of the first episode, it is certain that this series of Line of Duty will be one you will want to watch and not be likely to forget.
Line of Duty continues on BBC One next Sunday.