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
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?