Line of Duty review – an intense, butt-clenchingly brilliant finale

The last time I was this involved in a case was when I was doing actual jury service

Twenty-three minutes! That’s how long DS Steve Arnott’s interview scene is in this feature-length Line of Duty (BBC2) series finale. Twenty-three minutes in a gloomy conference room with no external windows, three coppers asking questions on one side of the table, another, plus his lawyer, answering them on the other side.

Sounds procedural, a little dry maybe? Hell no. DS Arnott starts off with the confidence of an innocent man but is gradually ground down by the lies and calculated treachery of DS “Dot” Cottan facing him. It’s brutal, mental cage-fighting, and one of them – it looks like Arnott – is going down.

But then a seed of doubt is sown in DC Kate Fleming’s mind, and cross-pollinates to her boss Superintendent Ted Hastings next to her. The tables begin to turn … literally, for Matthew Cottan, who is soon on the other side of the table himself, facing questions, from Hastings and Fleming, with Arnott now awaiting his fate in the cell downstairs. Just the 21 minutes by my watch, Cottan’s grilling, before his little text – “urgent exit required” – and it all kicks off: Kate riding automatic weapon on a delivery truck, and the bloody coda, with echoes of the dramatic series prelude.

It’s extraordinary, intense, butt-clenchingly gripping television – all of it, but the interviews especially. I found myself pressing pause, to study the evidence – item reference EGH1, item reference MB1-4, traffic camera images, everything – trying to make sense of it all. The last time I was this involved in a case was when I was doing actual jury service, though that time I had some say in the outcome. That’s the power of Line of Duty: it’s not just brilliant drama, it envelops you, and is plausible to the point that it pretty much becomes reality. That’s down to the utterly convincing performances from all the leads (Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, Craig Parkinson, Adrian Dunbar, plus – earlier – Keeley Hawes and Daniel Mays); and to John Strickland’s direction, which makes the procedure not just as important but as gripping as the action. And it’s down to Jed Mercurio’s fabulous writing and storytelling.

The postscripts help: “The coroner praised Lyndsay Denton’s ‘significant contribution’ to inquiries into the Caddy and Sands View Boys’ Home” and “Kate Fleming was awarded a commendation … ” Oh dear, the last person to get one of them was the Caddy himself, which probably means Kate’s also going to turn out bent in the next series. And DC Morton (Neil Morrissey, who has very successfully reinvented himself as a TV dodgy geezer) on actual gardening leave, mowing the lawn, full pension plus disability benefits, no sign of a limp.

What? A police officer retiring rather than face disciplinary procedures? Surely not. After last week’s Jimmy Savile cameo, Operation Yewtree gets another (withering) nod. “Meanwhile we go back to chasing disc-jockeys and gameshow hosts,” splutters Hastings, getting angrier. (Is Dunbar not the best, most convincing TV policeman ever?) There are nods to the real world all over the place. And what about the timing – in a week in which the big news story (apart from in the Murdoch press, weirdly) is about human tragedy followed by lies and coverup on a massive scale. Chilling.

A couple of tiny things. Would Kate not have heard the speeding Range Rover approaching before it hit her? And what a shot, from a distance, at a fast-moving target ... I’m not saying she couldn’t have (after being knocked down, don’t forget), I’m just saying: what a shot. That baby, was it real? I think it was, it moved, but it didn’t look real. And why is Morton mowing the bit he’s already mown … well, he’s got the time, I guess. Like I said, tiny things. More worryingly, there’s now a frightening void in the schedules, and in my life. What are we supposed to lie awake at night worrying about? The real world, I suppose.

After all this, Natural World: Meet the Moose Family (BBC2) is very gentle. An amiable Canadian named Hugo follows a couple of moose mums and their mooselets around the Rockies for a year. Funny way to spend a year. It goes as you’d imagine – the leaves fall off, snow comes, food is scarce. Plus there are nasty predators around, though Hugo doesn’t catch them on camera. It’s all about the moose. Oh, but then one of the young mooses is tragically eaten by a pack of wolves. Well, the wolves were hungry, too. And on the bright side, the other young moose is still alive. For now. Aaaorrooow.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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