Let me say, right off the bat, that I adored Stephen Tompkinson way back when he played lovestruck priest Peter in Ballykissangel. Yes, it was ‘Oirish’ romantic nonsense, but his passion for Dervla Kirwan’s fiery bar owner Assumpta was a joy to watch – and their painful parting every bit as heartbreaking. Tompkinson’s understated performance in the final few episodes (before his character strode off into the sunset, as t’were) was simply amazing.
But since then, he seems to have stuck to the same, one-note misery-guts figure, from Brassed Off (as a depressed former miner who can’t earn enough to keep his family afloat) to DCI Banks (a sour-faced policeman dealing with all manner of sordid crimes). If programme-makers are looking for an actor who can pull off the hang-dog expression for a solid hour, then Tompkinson is their man. By the way, I’m deliberately steering clear of the dross that was Wild at Heart *shudder*. Apologies if you were a fan.
All of this leads me to Truckers and I have to admit, when I saw Tompkinson’s face among the publicity shots, my heart sank. There was that dead-eyed stare, the downturned mouth, the gloomy expression. “Marvellous,” I thought. “He’s at it again.”
But Truckers is a bit of a surprise – and not an unwelcome one.
The opening instalment followed the story of Malachi (Tompkinson), a lorry driver for Banks of England (haha – can you see what they did there?), whose private life is, well, a little odd, to say the least. He still shares a house with his ex-wife – who, as well as having their decree absolute laminated, has also said yes to her younger boyfriend’s marriage proposal. None of which seems to really sink in with Mal, until his world-weary former spouse spells it out for him: it’s time for him to move out and find his own place.
Reacting a bit like a spoiled child, our Mally promptly hits the town with his son, sporting a new spray tan, Botox and a deeply uncomfortable-looking thong. But recapturing his glory days is easier said than done, and instead of sinking into Viagra-induced bliss with a prostitute, he hits the road in his truck and targets his ex-wife’s new fiance. While the plot then takes a turn for the silly, culminating in a high-speed chase and a Nottingham town-centre speech to end them all, Truckers nonetheless proves its mettle with the most powerful weapon in its arsenal: a script to die for.
Naturally, Tompkinson gets the pick of the lines, but there is plenty of top-drawer material to go around, and while the ‘situation’ comedy might be a little weak, the dialogue keeping the whole thing moving forward is outstanding. If all the characters featured get as much time in the spotlight as Malachi then this absorbing show should be a winner for Aunty Beeb.
In places it felt a bit like ‘drama by numbers’ but if nothing else, it’s proved – once more – that there’s more to Stephen Tompkinson than looking like a wet weekend in Widnes. Though we don’t need to see him in a thong ever, ever again…
Truckers Continues Thursday’s at 9.00pm on BBC ONE.
Contributed by Scheenagh Harrington