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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on