I am often teased for my dislike of excessively sunny or hot weather and for my love of the dank, the chilly and, particularly, of winter. I loathe heat waves, which I find oppressive, particularly in big cities, where you are engulfed in dusty, dirty, sweaty misery. I’m with comedian Bill Hicks, who was always aghast at people who urged him to move from New York to Los Angeles simply because it was piercingly hot and sunny all the time: “What are you people?” he would demand, “Lizards?”
We live in Britain, not Venezuela. We have a temperate climate most of the time, we are not supposed to roast our flesh in public places, so we end up looking like dispirited kebabs who’ve been rotating just that bit too long. Besides, I grew up on the east coast, where summers meant Sundays at the seaside sheltering behind what was laughably described as a wind break (it didn’t) while wrapped in the blanket Dad kept in the boot of the car. Ernest Shackleton would have objected to the cold.
I think this is why my favourite-ever opening scenes to a film are in Blade Runner. The slow, thrilling sweep of a city (supposedly Los Angeles 2019) at night, the deep darkness pierced by roaring, towering flames and millions of thumbprints of light. I know this view because Ridley Scott was inspired by a particular panorama of industrial Teesside, where we both grew up (though not together). There’s a frightening, savage beauty in those monolithic steel and chemical works in the blackness, and the flare stacks that gave us delightful scares as kids.
Gloom and darkness are exciting, they add frisson, which is why horror movies are never lit up like airport runways. It’s why Nordic Noir dramas are so, yes, noir, because it’s frigid and chilly and gloomy and emotions are kept tight to your chest because it’s too enervating to do otherwise. No one wears their hearts on their well-padded sleeves in The Bridge, or The Killing. It’s why I love Blackout (Monday BBC1) and Line of Duty (Tuesday BBC2), two splendid current examples of what I will term Northern Noir. Though the cities are unspecified, they ain’t in the South, that’s for sure.
Blackout in particular looks like my beloved Blade Runner; most of the time it’s pouring fiercely with rain as black deeds are committed in shadowy corners of a local council. Line of Duty is similarly grey, in line with the moral ambiguity of its central figure, rotten, but possibly not irredeemable cop Tony Gates (Lennie James). These are dark thrillers for dark times. Sun is unthinkable, it would drain away every ounce of oppression and menace. It would be Hawaii Five-0.
I hope both Blackout and Line of Duty are another two links in a taut chain of classy British TV thrillers begun by The Shadow Line last year and, before that, my favourite ever, State of Play. In their way they are bold (a crime thriller set in a local council?) and interesting, eschewing the usual to present initially unsympathetic central characters who might be so much more than simply “flawed”.
Bring on the darkness…