Into the sunlight…with The Shadow Line

Dazzled by a drama that’s so much better than “the British Wire”

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A few weeks ago I imploded after sitting through three hours of acrid pap called Candy Cabs. Just for a moment this supposed comedy drama’s toxic by-product of pink fluff clouded my sun and darkened my world. But, lo, all is well again. My heart has healed, the atmosphere has cleared and I can breathe easily at last.

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Thank you, The Shadow Line, I owe it all to you and the restorative powers of a clever, adult drama. Mesmerising, baffling, violent, audacious and full of, yes, actual shadows, you never know where you are with The Shadow Line.

It’s not the type of drama to lead its audience by the hand. Rather, it pushes us roughly, dropping hints and leaving clues before delivering a few hefty slaps across the face and sending us back to where we started. Or where we think we started, it’s hard to be sure. And even though our cheeks are stinging from the blows, we will return for even more.

It’s the kind of television that makes the world seem right again, and leaves you feeling that TV drama tsars and tsarinas know that there are a few people out there who don’t want a diet of processed, pallid drama Cheddar, they can handle a bit of rough Roquefort, too.

I love The Shadow Line’s nerve, its sly humour and the way that at the end of every episode there’s a gasper of a cliffhanger. In the closing minutes of this week’s third episode I shot out of my chair after being ambushed by a plot twist that I couldn’t have seen coming even if it had been wearing a high-visibility jacket and carrying a hand-painted sign declaring PLOT TWIST COMING.

Like all great dramas The Shadow Line’s electrical charge comes from its characters, all of them unknowable, and all of them, you feel, not what they appear. Its fulcrum is Detective Inspector Jonah Gabriel (superb Chiwetel Ejiofor) a police officer who returns to work with a bullet lodged in his brain after a botched police operation that left his partner dead. He remembers nothing of what happened.

The casting is peachy and judicious; Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea, Lesley Sharpe, Kierston Wareing, Rafe Spall (and, coming up, Eve Best and Antony Sher). There are no “star” roles as such, but in the truest sense of the phrase, everyone has a part to play. Like all great dramas, no words are wasted and there are no extraneous scenes. It all counts for something. What that something is – well, who knows, that’s the tease.

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The Shadow Line is written, directed and produced by the almost offensively talented Hugo Blick. How dare one man be so clever: Sensitive Skin, Marion & Geoff, Up in Town – they are all his. With The Shadow Line he has brought us something unique and unclassifiable, which is why you should ignore nonsensical claims that it’s “the British Wire”. It’s not, it is itself.