The Daily Telegraph
Line of Duty is back and can still deliver a masterful twist
Was Jed Mercurio a fact checker in a previous life? Line
of Duty, back for a fourth series and promoted to Sunday nights on BBC One, derives much of its riveting authority from attention to minutiae. Mercurio’s coppers wear the proper togs, sign the appropriate forms, deploy the correct acronyms.
As writer, director and chief superintendent of the police procedural, his obsession with getting things right ensures that, when individuals don’t do stuff by the book, the anti-corruption unit AC-12 can plausibly descend on them like a ton of bricks.
Viewers so trust the world’s authenticity that they are primed to accept everything that happens in it, however off the wall. Line of Duty has, for instance, established a template of hiring a big-name actor and then dispatching them early on. Gina McKee: mainly stored in a freezer. Jessica Raine: soon lobbed out of a window. Daniel Mays: quickly got it in the neck. It’s as if Mercurio has an unconscious fear of stars stealing the limelight.
Being trained to expect unexpected departures, viewers would have got shortish odds on Thandie Newton being rushed out of the fourth series in a box. Newton was introduced as DCI Roz Huntley, who seemed to have it all: nice family, big house, a clean record and a fresh promotion putting her in charge of “Operation Trapdoor”. But she was soon suspected of tampering with the evidence to nail suspected serial killer Michael Farmer (Scott Reid).
Towards the end of the episode she did indeed appear to become another of Line of Duty’s high-profile casualties. A fracas with forensics specialist Tim Ifield (Jason Watkins), a kitchen scuffle with a hot pan, a tumble, an accidental blow to the cranium – suddenly she was on the floor with blood pooling around her head. Her killer was all set to dismember her corpse when the buzz of an electric saw caused her eyes to ping open. Gothic or what?
What to make of Ifield? He’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery concealed in a suet pudding. Jason Watkins, better known as a gifted comic actor, makes for brave casting. He was perfect as an oddball forensics boffin whose nerdy obsession with carpet fibres feels like Mercurio having a joke about his own meticulousness. Evidently there’s previous between him and Huntley. And yet somehow that kitchen contretemps, and the shopping spree for tools to dice up a corpse, strayed perilously close to fantastical.
Elsewhere everything was very much as you were. There was a pulsating opener to reel you in. A young woman was knocked over by a car, and abducted by the driver, then threw herself out of the moving vehicle, before being stuffed in the boot. Strap in, the sequence said: bumpy ride ahead.
We were 15 minutes in before AC-12’s familiar triumvirate were summoned to take a sniff at DCI Huntley’s dodgy evidence. DS Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), posing as Kate Flynn, went in with her new long hair scraped back and her ice-blue eyes radiating sincerity. Beware Fleming smiling courteously and calling you “Ma’am”. You’ll get safer gifts from Greeks.
It feels like we need to know more about Fleming. The first series alluded to children and an affair, but her private life has barely intruded since while the relationships of DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and SI Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) have been scrutinised in some detail.
Instead Mercurio contracts out storylines about the stresses of life as a female officer to the guest characters: first, lonely singleton Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) and now Newton, convincing, if implausibly easy on the eye, as a working mother who has won a promotion by donning a teak-tough veneer. It’s as if she’s swallowed a box set of Prime Suspect.
There were allusions to the grand arc of the previous three series, particularly in Ifield’s knowledge of Arnott’s police record, but Line of
Duty is off on a new line of inquiry now. It may not be resolved for another couple of years. Operation Trapdoor seems to be well named: a portal to a murky basement in which Mercurio looks set to inspect fake facts, whistle-blowing, and the police coming under the cosh on Twitter. And much more.
For the white knights of AC-12, cynicism is a useful factory setting as they delve into the depths. “How do you know when an investigating officer is telling lies?” asked Hastings. “His lips move,” replied Arnott. He wasn’t really joking.