A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Ian Rankin's long-running novel series Inspector Rebus has garnered a legion of fans since its debut in the late '80s, and prompted multiple adaptations for stage and screen - the most recognisable of which is Ken Stott's ITV series in the 2000s.


And, following a lengthy hiatus, the series has been revived by screenwriter Gregory Burke for the BBC, this time focusing on a younger version of detective sergeant John Rebus, played by Outlander's Richard Rankin, set in present-day Edinburgh.

Unlike previous takes, this series isn't a direct adaptation of Rankin's source material. While packed with characters and nods fans will relish, Burke's Rebus is a longer-form story that wants to be judged on its own merits, and is accessible to both Rebus-heads and newcomers as a result.

When we first meet our leading man, he's at a tricky juncture. His professional and personal lives have collided head on after his brother Michael (Brian Ferguson), not long out of the army, decides to blow up his own life by turning to crime to plug the black hole in his finances.

Unlike in the books, Michael plays a significant role here, with Burke fleshing out the strained relationship between the two brothers. And by placing Rebus's family at the heart of the case, the emotional stakes are greater, helping this iteration of Rebus to stand apart from what we've seen previously.

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Michael's reckless behaviour not only endangers his wife and teenage sons, it also puts Rebus in a compromising position, something he's all too capable of doing to himself, as we see in the opening scene during a brutal confrontation between the detective and his arch antagonist, Ger Cafferty (Stuart Bowman).

Bowman is well cast as the notorious gangster, capturing the gravitas and swagger needed to play a man who rules Edinburgh's underworld.

Cafferty, Rebus and Michael standing in a huddle, looking directly into the camera
Stuart Bowman as Ger Cafferty, Richard Rankin as John Rebus and Brian Ferguson as Michael Rebus. Eleventh Hour Films/Mark Mainz

Throughout the six-parter, Rebus is torn between his duty as a police officer and his concern for Michael, a dilemma which is compounded further when detective Malcolm Fox (Thoren Ferguson) from Professional Standards begins sniffing about.

Rebus can't afford to put a foot wrong, certainly not in plain sight.

Other characters include Rebus's ex-wife Rhona (Amy Manson) and her new, very wealthy, fund manager husband, who encroaches on his relationship with young daughter Sammy (Mia McKenzie).

When Rebus feels himself slipping into the darker regions of his character, so often fuelled by his complicated relationship with alcohol, it's Rhona and Sammy who often pull him back from the brink – but not always.

It's in those moments that Rankin shines. He's entirely believable as someone who is trying to do the right thing and be the best possible version of himself for his daughter and ex-partner, for whom his love has never wavered. But as Burke's writing keenly emphasises, that's often easier said than done.

There's also Rebus's new investigations partner DC Siobhan Clarke (Lucie Shorthouse), whose background and worldview stand in stark contrast to her colleague's – a hallmark of so many on-screen detective duos over the years, and one that's been lifted from the books.

But after a frosty initial introduction, and despite a controversial secret of Siobhan's threatening to derail their working relationship entirely, the pair settle into their own rhythm.

While their dynamic follows a somewhat predictable beat, it doesn't make it an any less enjoyable watch.

Siobhan getting out of a car
Lucie Shorthouse as Siobhan Clarke in Rebus. Eleventh Hour Films/Mark Mainz

Rebus is a testing yet compelling watch, travelling close to the bone while also channelling the dark humour found in the books. And as the gang warfare ramps up in its savagery, blow torches and all, those moments of levity not only become a lifeline for the audience, but chime with the reality of the world being depicted.

What's most enjoyable and impressive about the BBC series, though, is while it hasn't been directly lifted from what's come before, it feels at home in Rankin's world. That is largely due to the details that Burke has chosen to include, seamlessly bringing characters and plot threads together in a way that doesn't derail the show.

As a result, Rebus feels re-energised, delivering a new and exhilarating yarn that also provides some scathing commentary on the state of modern Scotland.

This is a series that could run and run, with no shortage of material to mine, and if the BBC has any sense, the cogs will already be in motion. Rebus is gritty Scottish drama at its best.

Rebus starts on Friday 17th May on BBC iPlayer. All episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer from 6am, with episode one airing on BBC Scotland on Friday 17th May at 10pm and on BBC One on Saturday 18th May at 9:25pm.


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