I often wish policemen could be a little less articulate. Not the real ones, who presumably can use all the fluency they can muster, but the television ones, who are generally possessed of chilly, robotic eloquence.
Sometimes, they’re terse in their manner, spitting out belt fed commands at a room full of underlings in a way that suggests not one syllable can be wasted. At other times, they’re more expansive, delivering little arias of mordant complaint about their bosses or the psychology of their suspect. But they hardly ever – as real people do – stammer, or get the wrong word, or forget what it was they were about to say. This is a quality that virtually all television speakers share, of course, but there’s something particularly grating about it when the speeches in question are being uttered in tones of steely, urgent command.
There’s an awful lot of steely urgency in Trial & Retribution,now back on Friday nights with DCS Walker and DCI Connor competing to see which of them can look most stony-faced and unrelenting. For my money, DCI Roisin Connor, played by Victoria Smurfit, easily takes the trophy. David Hayman, who plays Walker, can look grim with the best of them, but is occasionally called upon to let a tremor of paternal sorrow cross his face. Connor, though, enters a room like an icebreaker hitting heavy pack ice, egos and sensitivities splintering around her unyielding features.
Even flirtation takes the form of a demolition derby in this world, a deliberate scraping and bashing of bodywork until sparks start to fly. When Roisin put her foot in it by cocking up a drug-squad operation, she squared off against her opposite number like a pub drunk spoiling for a fight, which was a pretty sure sign that it wouldn’t be very long before both parties would be writhing around together in a bed. But if only they could’ve cheered up a bit in the interim and made wittering small talk.
The “I hate you/Take your clothes off” trope was also in evidence in the first episode of Hunter, in which DI Zoe Larson did the angry, shouty, face-off schtick with a colleague in the office and then next moment turned up to straddle him in his bedroom.
DI Larson isn’t very popular in the office because she’s a fast-tracker and plays everything by the book, but Hunter itself isn’t supposed to. It’s a spin-off from that excellent series Five Days,which genuinely coaxed something fresh from the over-worked field of the police procedural, although, on the basis of this first episode, it’s hard not to feel that a regrettable act of taming and domestication has taken place here.
The point, I take it, is to get a little more mileage out of the double act of Hugh Bonneville and Janet McTeer – an astronomy-loving Detective Superintendant and his booze-loving sidekick – and when they’re off duty, sparring gently to feel out what it is they actually want from each other, it works well.
The lines are a mile away from the functional directness of Trial & Retribution. On duty, though, things are more predictable, and matters aren’t helped by a plotline so effortfully “different” that it threatens the low-key plausibility that should be one of the drama’s selling points. Inter-scene cuts offer you Martin Parr-like images of scudding clouds over a caravan park, or an electricity pylon framed against the sky, an artful bathos that is matched by procedural details about the importance of an office manager or the grim bureaucracy of inter-force liaison. But then the crime turned out to be so unexpectedly baroque in its execution and intentions that credibility began to evaporate.
Two young boys were abducted and turned out to have been kidnapped by anti-abortionists who aimed to use them as leverage for a change in the law, to which end they supplied the police with a steady stream of press releases and emailed photographs of the drugged victims. And the ticking clock element of this storyline turned Hunter into Trial & Retribution, with Bonneville barking out orders and getting steely and urgent in canonical bellowing-copper style.
As it happens, the anti-abortion storyline has its virtues, though these were less apparent in the first episode than they are in tonight’s, when the personal circumstances of the investigating force begin to grate uncomfortably against the self righteous certainty of the people they’re trying to track down.
There’s a nice little exchange in which McTeer’s character owns up to her own abortions – aggressively insouciant about the revelation – and the sense of an untold story floats to the surface. Even here, though, the drama needed more space to tease out these frayed ends and let us see what a tangle they might get into, space that wasn’t available given the more conventional two-part format. I reckon five days, rather than two, would have just about done it.Reuse content