I commented about The Shadow Line after the first episode was broadcast, noting that many were remarking that it was a British version of The Wire. Seven weeks later and following that comment it seems right to return to what’s likely to be a highlight for the BBC this year.
Was it the British Wire? No, in the end it was to deeply artifice to be like that, instead it was somewhere between “Edge of Darkness “ and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. After the first week it abandoned realism (although it was never truly out of the picture) in favour of a deeply stylised approach. It didn’t always work, but it was never less than totally committed to its own ideas. Like The Wire it was the vision of a single person, but here it was about metaphor rather than a mirror of societies ills.
Interestingly it offered no redemption / positive conclusion. It’s difficult to say that those morally whiter than the majority of the cast emerged with any sense of victory (or any victory at all). Yes, they had the moral high ground, but their efforts were to no avail. In the end evil (personified by Stephen Rea as a combination of George Smiley and The Terminator) triumphed, not because it defeated everyone but because everyone resigned to it.
The acting was superb throughout. Stephen Rea and Rafe Spall seemed to be competing to present the case for who was the bigger psychopath, one all cold detachment, the other (seemingly) impulsive behaviour. However in the end they were eclipsed by what at first seemed the most straightforward of roles from Christopher Eccleston – his penultimate scene was played purely with body language and was amongst the most quietly devastating moments on TV for a long time. One hundred percent commitment from all meant it never crossed the line into pretension.
Between this and “The Crimson Petal and the White”, the BBC seems to be having a bumper year of quality, hopefully it will continue.