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The Shadow Line

June 18, 2011

The Shadow Line finished on BBC 2 this week, after seven episodes. At its best it conjured an impressively shadowed atmosphere thanks to beautiful photography and excellent front-line performances. At its worst I was honestly not sure whether certain dialogue was intended to be taken seriously. The end was a flat, rote packing away of things which could more tantalisingly have been left semi-submerged, and a release of any dramatic grip the series held. I’d still recommend it, but not in the same breath as, say, Edge Of Darkness or Red Riding.

In fact the only near-perfect thing to have some out of the series is the song used in the opening titles, by Emily Barker, which is almost uncreditably sad.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Katharine Jones permalink
    June 19, 2011 9:01 am

    The Shadow Line was for me the most compelling drama of the ‘thriller/crime’ genre I’ve seen since Edge of Darkness or Smiley’s People (both of which I’ve recently seen again). It never pretended to be realistic – it was stage drama, for the small screen in a way which simply wouldn’t have worked in the cinema – and I don’t mean that as a criticism. The focus was entirely on the characters and the blurring of the line between the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys – weren’t our sympathies with Joseph Bede as much as, or more than, with Jonah Gabriel? And it left so many questions unanswered… while firmly closing the door on a sequel. Visually very black and white, but morally everything was up for grabs. A quibble about the ending – the very last scene, after the birth of the baby, was I thought unnecessary – but overall the series’ sense of menace was overwhelming. Personally, I so glad the BBC chose to spread it over 7 weeks, rather than make it a one or two week miniseries… though that might perhaps have helped the viewing figures. A shame that audiences didn’t stick with it, perhaps they are used to stories which unroll faster, or where it’s easier to make moral judgements. Perhaps it would have been better shown on BBC4, and then repeated on 2 once a word of mouth ‘buzz’ was underway?

  2. June 19, 2011 12:16 pm

    Hi Katharine. I think I mostly agree, about the promising dramatic structure and lack of simplistic villains and heroes. But when it really came to it the murky moral ambiguity was handled unconvincingly, I thought. Agreed, realism isn’t what the series was reaching for, but an internal believability certainly is, and some of the crucial character turns and painful dialogue stopped it from being as complete or satisfying as it might have been.

    Still, I was also surprised about the scheduling. Maybe BBC 4 would’ve been better (I saw it online at first, anyway, so would have caught it either way) and for what’s clearly an expensive and high-quality production I barely saw it trailed. Odd.

  3. Bernie allen permalink
    June 19, 2011 6:48 pm

    Far too many words…..only one needed…….. and you know what that is.

  4. John Letchford permalink
    June 20, 2011 8:12 pm

    Although the final episode fell slightly flat, this was a really excellent series which left me with that deflated feeling of knowing I’ll be waiting a very long time to see something of that calibre again on the small screen. Congratulations to the BBC for taking a risk with it, clearly it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea given the violence and language, but all justified within the context of the world in which it was set. Will look out for anything written by Hugo Blick in the future, and expect to be haunted by the beautiful (if somewhat morose) opening track by Emily Barker!

  5. Becky permalink
    June 20, 2011 9:59 pm

    Are they gonna do a second series? Or a prequel? Gatehouse rocks!

    • Debbie Kagan permalink
      April 17, 2012 11:08 pm

      I sure hope they do a second season and then some. Unbelievable show!!!

  6. Ellen permalink
    June 21, 2011 7:03 pm

    I am afraid I have to disagree with Nathans criticism too. Dialogue not intended to be taken seriously? The language was truly beautiful sometimes; concise and comprehensive. The end did seem to be tidying up all loose ends, and I’d have preferred a more hopeful ending instead of the cynical statement that everyone is corrupt, with the exception of (angel) Gabriel and (venerable) Bede, who both ended up dead. There appears to be no hope left for us!
    My husband and I were on holiday in the UK when the first episode was shown and, back home in the Netherlands, we were glued to the screen the following weeks. Such quality, raising such moral questions in such a criminal setting: we found it simply wonderful. What a pitiful country we are, where we cannot produce anything with even a hint of this quality. Thankfully you do!

  7. June 21, 2011 7:21 pm

    Thanks all for commenting. Maybe I was too harsh – The Shadow Line was something I looked forward to watching during transmission every week, which is rare for me. It had moments of extraordinary quality. But scenes like this – the awkwardness of the stand-off (coat-hanger vs gun?) and the stilted macho lines (“Make sure you make an appointment”) mean I’m honestly still not sure whether it’s supposed to be taken straight or not.

  8. Steve permalink
    June 22, 2011 11:18 am

    What a shame. Not unusual though. Great promise / great premise to begin with. A strong cast, enough money and resources to do the job properly, but at a basic story /script level an inability to deliver. Hugo, you just didn’t do the real hard work, did you? In the end all you gave us was cliche wrapped in state of the art noir glamour.

  9. Neo permalink
    July 1, 2011 11:47 pm

    Wow, compelling viewing that left me questionning my moral principles this happens in real life, of that I am sure

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