TV Review: Line of Duty (Series 1-5)

It’s widely regarded as one of the best television shows of the Century. I’ve watched the 29 episodes of Line of Duty so far, and can confirm that it is indeed one of the best series I’ve seen in a long time, if not the best.

Just as a warning, after the next section, there will be spoilers. To those that don’t want to read them, I can confirm that Line Of Duty is brilliantly written, acted really well and the plot keeps you wanting more. The twists are also a standout point. It’s well worth a watch.

In the UK, ‘Line of Duty’ is available on the BBC iPlayer. In USA, Amazon and Acorn hold the rights, while in Canada you can watch on Hulu. (There’s also VPNs if you’re feeling very naughty!)

Season by season ratings:
Season 1: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)
Season 2: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)
Season 3: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)
Season 4: ★★★★★★★★★ (9/10)
Season 5: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)

As you can tell by my 98% approval rating, I am a big fan of the show. It could be a little too intense for a binge, mind: it took me over a year to watch the five seasons together. Unlike other police shows it is always fast moving and it is never predictable.

Set in AC-12, the leading police anti-corruption unit in ‘The City’, each season takes on a new corrupt officer, played by a famous face. However, the circumstances are always different. Season 1’s Tony Gates (the brilliant Lennie James – Save Me, and Save Me Too are also incredible) was a corrupt officer who managed to manipulate his entire team into keeping his secrets; while Season 5’s John Corbett (Stephen Graham, who also is in Save Me) is an undercover cop trying to expose as many bent coppers as possible. A special mention has to go down to season 2’s new face, Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes), who may be one of the best villains created. There’s definitely a whole genre now of TV shows featuring corrupt female police detectives who are slightly crazy – Bancroft, Doctor Foster etc – but this one takes the crown.

Lindsay Denton: one of the most evil, but also the greatest, villain to date in ‘Line Of Duty’.

From the moment where she beats up her neighbour for making too much noise, you can tell that there’s something wrong. However, in true ‘LOD’ fashion, she turns out to be not that bad after all – if you ignore all the crimes she’s committed. After all, in season 3, after a lengthy feud with Arnott which involved £50,000 and a debate about whether they slept together or not, she did end up providing the evidence which saw evil Matthew (Dot) Cottan exposed for his crimes. Quick shoutout to the series 3 finale too – probably the highlight of the entire show- with the lengthy chase which resulted in Cottan’s ultimate demise following his interview. A truly nasty character, who ultimately deserved the grandstand finale he deserved.

LOD is notorious for its melodramatic twists and plot points. In the opening episode of season 2, Steve Arnott is paired up with DC Georgia Trotman. Her exit out of a hospital window many storeys high is the most shocking death that this show has managed – years after watching it the first time, it still appears in my memory occasionally. Another moment is at the end of the season 4 premiere, when Roz Huntley (Thandie Newton) wakes up after being apparently manslaughtered by pathologist Tim Ifield, and awakens just as he’s about to saw her body up. Not many shows would dare go down that level of brutality – but it works brilliantly.

Special mention of course must go to the leading cast. Vicky McClure as Kate Fleming is exceptional, and for me is the stand-out. Believable and likeable, along with being very human, she counterbalances the often unlikeability of Steve Arnott (Martin Compston). What is interesting about Steve is that we aren’t necessarily supposed to like him, going by interviews with the actor. Although by the fifth season he is more likeable, I wasn’t too enamoured in season 1 when he was the central character. It did set up everything which followed, however. Also, can he and Sam sort their shit out and just get together at last?

But mother of god, the star of the show is Superintendent Hastings, aka Adrian Dunbar. Although he came under severe suspicion for being ‘H’ in series 5, you always wanted to believe that he wasn’t. The acting quality is incredible, but you can tell there is also a fierce personality behind the tough exterior. You couldn’t cross Hastings, although many have tried: he is simply too clever.

Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar and Martin Compston are three of the best actors around.

The most impressive thing which ‘Line of Duty’ does, for me, is that it manages to make interviews exciting. Whether it’s stunning plot twists or shootouts, when at least one of the main trio sits in the AC-12 interview room, you know that something big is about to happen. Other shows tend to treat interviews as run-of-the-mill; the information that the interrogation concerns is already known to the viewers. Jed Mercurio writes in a way that you cannot see what is coming next. And, although some interview sequences may last up to 20 minutes, it’s encapsulating.

The attention to minor details is extraordinary. In Matthew Cottan’s dying declaration at the end of season 3, he makes a previously unnoticed hand movement, indicating Morse code. This is not referred to until the dying seconds of the fifth season, where it becomes blatantly obvious that this clue has been staring all of us in the face for three or four years. References even back to season 1 and the frozen corpse of Jackie Laverty are made, 7 years down the line. This show takes a lot of commitment, but if you’re prepared to make that commitment, and pay attention, you get rewarded.

And for the future? Season 5’s finale received nearly 13 million live viewers – for 2019, that was an extraordinary figure, especially for something which was averaging between 3 and 4 million for the first 3 seasons on BBC2 (and continues to grow it’s loyal fanbase). How many seasons are left? I daresay that 7 will be the last. This is just a prediction: and while it will be a shame to eventually say goodbye to this cast, it’s better that than turn it into something resembling Silent Witness. Season 6 certainly has a few threads to explore. Who is the fourth caddy? Who is controlling all of them? (Also I love how we had a red herring for two whole seasons about ‘H’) And what will Ryan Pilkington’s training as a police officer eventually mean? Only trouble, surely.

It’s a shame that season 6 won’t be airing in 2020 now. But hopefully we won’t have too long to wait until we get the next batch of six episodes. All I want is more 90-minute epic finales. This is where ‘Line Of Duty’ is truly at it’s most sublime; when the intensity is at a max, when nothing is off the table, and when you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen in the next sentence, let alone dare guess who is at the bottom of the conspiracy.

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