Line of Duty's 'Steely Keeley' gets the nation talking

After stunning critics in BBC2's 'Line of Duty' Keeley Hawes speaks ahead of the finale

Is she innocent or guilty? It’s the question on the lips of anyone who has been watching Line of Duty. Over the past five weeks, BBC2’s cop thriller has enjoyed ever-rising viewing figures and critical superlatives – and the fact that the nation is nail-destroyingly gripped is largely down to Keeley Hawes and her captivating portrayal of DI Lindsay Denton, the lone survivor of the ambush on a police convoy under investigation for double-dealing. Is Denton an inscrutable, evil genius – or a deeply unfortunate victim of an elaborate set-up? This Wednesday’s final episode will reveal all – we bloody well hope.

It’s a testament to scriptwriter Jed Mercurio’s skill that, during her audition for the role, Hawes was asking the same question, with equal desperation. “I said, ‘I don’t care if I get [the part], just please tell me, is she guilty or not?’.” But Mercurio was noncommittal: at that point, even he genuinely didn’t know what the outcome was to be. Which might explain why Hawes’s character is so brilliantly ambiguous.

Hawes has such a stony stare, an unflinching glower, that’s she’s been dubbed “Steely Keeley”. But the character has also been put through the wringer: boiling water poured on her hands, kidnapped and bundled into a car boot, waterboarded … and her mum died. Guilty or not, we can’t help but empathise.

The reviews have been as effusive as they come. “[Hawes] will probably get every award going,” opined Clive James in The Telegraph; “Denton might be the best character to emerge from a British drama in years,” said The Guardian. Hawes laughs loudly, but not without a smidgen of pride, at such rave notices. “You can’t take them too seriously. But I won’t deny, it has put a smile on my face!”

All the accolades may partly be due to Hawes playing against type. It seems we love an actor willing to “do ugly”: in shapeless suits or prison scrubs, with lank hair and bags under her eyes, it’s fair to say Denton is a far cry from the glamorous copper Hawes played in Ashes to Ashes, the pearls-and-furs aristo of Upstairs Downstairs, or even the tangerine-hued Essex girl of the disastrous recent West End show, Barking in Essex. And Hawes is quite candid about the fact that her career has been rooted in image. “Quite a lot of the characters I’ve played have been glamorous in one way or another, or have used their sexuality to get what they want – this could not be further removed.”

But Denton is unusual not just in terms of Hawes’ previous roles, but female roles on TV, full-stop. She never tries to be likeable, but nor is she a powerful ball-breaking bitch. And she is neither an unflinching maverick like The Killing’s Sarah Lund or The Fall’s Stella Gibson nor a weepy, girly victim. One minute Denton is scarily smart and tough, but the next she’s downtrodden and vulnerable.

Hawes herself is unconvinced by the “we need more strong women on TV” argument: “This isn’t going to make me popular, but people are always talking about the need for “strong women” and I don’t think all women are strong, and it wouldn’t be a great interpretation of all the sorts of women that I know [if all those on TV were]. And Lindsay is just a normal woman.”

But she does acknowledge that a female character being put through what Denton suffers and surviving it – and also committing her own acts of violence – is highly unusual: “If it was a man in that role, I don’t think there would have been any fuss made about it. It seems wrong to say it’s a brilliant role for a woman. It’s just a great role.”

She was relieved that the Line of Duty team were able to see past the feminine charm of her previous parts to the darkness of Denton: “My main worry is people not having the imagination to think that I could go there, or that I’d be prepared to go there.” Prepared she certainly was: Hawes threw herself into the physically icky bits, whether that was having her head flushed down the loo, or being thrown around in the back of a van.

“They’re the fun bits!” she says with glee, before confessing that some scenes – such as last week’s waterboarding – were supposed to be even more grim. “In the first script, the towel was put over her face and then one of the guys urinates on her. I think it was just a step too far for the BBC ....”

It’s clear that, with Hawes, casting directors have been missing a trick all these years – though last week’s news that she will play a Doctor Who villain inspires hope. Is she generally seeing a shift in the roles she’s being sent? “I’m waiting for the offers … Lindsay is a one-off, I’d be surprised if somebody like her came up again. But bring it on if it does!”

‘Line of Duty’ concludes on Wednesday at 9pm, BBC 2

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past