Alan Waldman :
Brit TV critics call ‘Line of Duty’ the best cop show ever, and for good reason

The BBC’s riveting, best-performing drama in a decade, starring Lennie James, is an intelligent, surprising look at police corruption.

line of duty

Line of Duty investigators Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston, and Vicky McClure.

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | July 6, 2014

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

My wife and I were blown away by the five-part, 300-minute first season of the 2012 British cop-corruption thriller Line of Duty, which was the BBC’s best-performing drama in 10 years. It is available on DVD and Netflix and has aired on Hulu. (To see it on YouTube you have to pay $5 to something called Acorn TV.) Britain is enjoying a six-part second season, and two further series have been ordered.

Line of Duty was created by, and all 11 episodes were written by Jed Mercurio, who was nominated for two major British best drama awards and a best writer honor for it. Brilliant star Lennie James was nominated for The UK Royal Television Society’s best actor award. At, 95% of 1,805 viewers gave it thumbs-up, and 20.9% rated it a perfect 10. The series was hugely popular with all demos, although slightly higher with viewers 18 and younger. British critics were wildly enthusiastic about it.

Waldman’s film and TV treasures you may have missed

British police refused to cooperate with the producers of the program, but the production team was advised both by retired police officers and anonymously by serving officers. They also used anonymous police blogs.

After a mistaken shooting during a counter-terrorist operation Line of Duty sees Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) transferred to AC-12, a fictional anti-corruption unit. Alongside Detective Constable Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), who is working undercover, he is assigned by Superintendant Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) to investigate alleged corruption by a popular, successful cop-of-the-year medal winner Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (Lennie James).

Line of Duty

Lennie James.

Hastings tries to get Gates on minor bribery charges, but is unaware that Gates, married with two children, has covered up a fatal hit-and-run by his long-time lover, businesswoman Jackie Laverty (Gina McKee).

The series is full of wonderful twists and turns, is skilfully written, and features many powerhouse performances — including those of actors I have long followed and admired: Dunbar and McKee. The DVD’s very interesting extra features reveal that one of the serious cops on Gates’ squad was played by a popular British comic actor, Neil Morrissey.

Mercurio has one award win and 11 noms for this series, Bodies and Cardiac Arrest.

James has performed in 59 films and TV series, including MI-5, Cold Feet, A Touch of Frost and Jericho. Martin Compston won five awards and received six noms, and has also appeared in Monarch of the Glen, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Strippers vs. Werewolves, and The Damned United.

Adrian Dunbar has 70 credits, including A Touch of Frost, Murphy’s Law, Cracker, Inspector Morse, My Left Foot, and The Crying Game. Vicky McClure has two best actress wins and three noms for This is England. Gina McKee garnered two wins and six noms for works including Our Friends in the North, The Street, and Fiona’s Story.

Season two of Line of Duty, not yet available in the U.S., deals with cop-on-cop killings.

I have recommended a lot of dramas on The Rag Blog over the past two years, but this one is really exceptional.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman’s articles on The Rag Blog.]

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