Deep breaths everyone, we made it through together! If you found yourselves moved to tears by that incredible opening sequence, don’t worry. Jamie Bamber (utterly magnificent as lead firefighter Kev) was sat 3 seats in front of me at the preview screening and I was still terrified the man on screen was actually going to be burnt alive.
That, my friends, is tremendous acting. Huge praise should also go to the impeccable production team.
But let’s move on. This opener set up the storylines beautifully but I am left with so many questions. Will Kev be able to come to terms with his horrific injuries (more on those in a moment)? Will Asbo come clean about his part in the fire? Will Little Al ever win a cagefight?
Let’s deal with Asbo first. We were sworn to secrecy about his identity but to be honest, I’d guessed that end twist was coming even before the scenes on the estate. Was anyone else expecting Thomas Turgoose to turn up at that point? Actually, a comparison to This Is England, another gutsy drama that makes you laugh even as you struggle not to be sickened by some of the scenes seems pretty fair.
We’ll talk about the most gut-wrenching scene now. Again, us loyal TV critics were advised not to spoil the…er…big reveal but even so I was tempted to say something in my preview. It was an exceptionally difficult scene to watch, as a drunk Kev revealed the extent of his injuries to a shocked room. Aside from admiring some of the best prosthetics work I’ve seen, I also managed to catch my breath long enough to register the sublime performance from Jodie Whitaker. She’s been one of my favourite actresses for a long time, so I’m not surprised that she could bring a whole world of pain and longing onto the screen in just a few moments, but it was still a breathtaking achievement.
Even as this episode belonged to Kev and Trish, the scene was being set for the rest of the ensemble. Ziggy in particular intrigues me. She seems to be the foil to the laddish humour of White Watch, but I imagine there’s a big story coming up for her. And what of Little Al and his struggles to see his kid? People forget that many firefighters do another job alongside their duties, and this exhaustive routine has been highlighted in Al’s character. I predict our new friends in White Watch will have a lot of heartbreak to get through before the series’ end.
That said, The Smoke should also be praised for just how hilarious it is. I loved the trading of one liners upon Kev’s return, which also neatly led us away from expecting that his injuries were far more shocking than just ‘toasted buns’. I also loved the scene where they sang along to Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’, though I think we can safely say it won’t be getting to No. 1 anytime soon. I imagine that in another drama, a scene with some firefighters driving along the road would be cut short, but in The Smoke they devoted several minutes to building a picture of the camaraderie between the crew. It’s this sort of commitment to building characters that make me think The Smoke could well be the best drama of 2014. Of course it is early in the year, but programmers should look to The Smoke to see how top quality drama should be made.
The Smoke Continues Thursday’s at 9.00pm on Sky One.