The Tower review: Gemma Whelan plays incorruptible Met detective in ITV drama

Gemma Whelan (Gentleman Jack) and Tahirah Sharif (The Haunting of Bly Manor) star as Met police officers in the new adaptation.

The Tower

ITV drama The Tower, based on former Metropolitan Police detective Kate London’s novel Post Mortem, follows a female Met detective surrounded by morally ambiguous colleagues. The series arrives at a time of public scrutiny for the force, following the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer, and the recent case of two Met officers who pleaded guilty to taking and sharing photos of the murder scene of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.

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The ITV drama’s potential timeliness isn’t lost on its cast. In an interview with its lead Gemma Whelan, I mentioned a separate conversation with her co-star, Tahirah Sharif, who stated that The Tower will shine a light on police officers’ unconscious biases. “Yeah, I think it could be interesting because, of course, they’re under the spotlight for not good reasons at the moment,” Whelan said. Although I’ve only watched a preview of episode one, she revealed that the rest of the series would delve into issues of racism and sexism, and the questionable behaviour of various officers we meet. 

Episode one mainly focuses on introducing its key players, chief among them Met detective DS Sarah Collins, played by the brilliant and chameleon-like Whelan (best known for supporting turns in the likes of Game of Thrones, Upstart Crow and Gentleman Jack). Sarah is a definite ‘good cop’; she’s “unconventional, different – ‘slightly nerdy’ was what we were going for”, Whelan told RadioTimes.com.

The character’s orange coat (combined with a lilac shirt the first time we meet her) has all the makings of an iconic detective outfit, right up there with Vera’s squashed bucket hat.

When we meet Sarah, she’s just parked up outside a crime scene. A veteran beat cop and a teenage girl have fallen to their deaths from the top of a tower block in south east London. Up on the roof, Sarah finds two shaken witnesses: a five-year-old boy, and a rookie police officer, Lizzie Adama (Sharif in The Tower cast). She also runs into another officer: Lizzie’s boss, DI Kieran Shaw (Emmett J Scanlan), who clearly has something to hide. 

Sarah’s job is made far more difficult when Lizzie runs away just hours after the incident. With their chief witness missing, Sarah and her colleague, DC Steve Bradshaw (Jimmy Akingbola), must piece together what happened in the run-up to the tower block fall.

However, Sarah must also contend with sexist male superiors who seem suspiciously keen to sweep the investigation under the carpet, claiming Sarah is under stress following a painful break-up with her ex-girlfriend. (One particularly nasty colleague points out that she’s still only a DS. She retorts that it’s only because she doesn’t tell jokes to men in bars.)

The Tower
ITV

Flashbacks to a few weeks prior, with a focus on Lizzie, provide a further insight for the viewer. There’s clearly a cover-up of some nature, and it seems linked to a mysterious comment made by veteran cop PC Hadley Matthews (Nick Holder) to teenager Farah Mehenni (Lola Elsokari) prior to both their deaths.

It remains to be seen what direction the drama takes, or just how bright a light the series will shine on the police force. But when it comes to solving the show’s central mystery, episode one does an excellent job emphasising how DS Sarah Collins is more than equal to the challenge.

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The Tower begins on ITV at 9pm on Monday 8th November. While you’re waiting, take a look at our other Drama coverage, or find out what else is on with our TV Guide.