“I”M just a flower man, sergeant.”
Hot on the heels of Exile comes another top class TV thriller.
The Shadow Line begins a seven-part series on BBC2 tonight, with Christopher Eccleston as that flower man Joseph Bede.
It’s much more of a slow burn than Exile but well worth sticking with for the twists and turns ahead.
Including a rather big surprise at the end of episode one.
Also watch out for Rafe Spall’s astonishingly good performance as Jay Wratten in tonight’s opener.
Just one of many to pick out over the coming weeks.
I’m guessing that when the awards nominations come around next year, both Exile and The Shadow Line will be down among the nominations.
My Manchester Evening News feature is below.
TWO police torches shine out on a pitch black night. A dead body is about to be found in the back of a car.
The opening scene to new seven-part thriller The Shadow Line (BBC2, tonight, 9pm) is set in a deserted bowls club car park, where a contract killer has been at work.
But writer, director and producer Hugo Blick was concerned that a faint glow from the nearby Isle of Man airport would ruin the scene. So he asked a member of the TV team to make a call.
“He rang the airport and said, ‘Look, we’re filming. Is there any chance you could switch the lights off?’ The response was, ‘Yes, but we’ve got a flight coming in at 10 ‘o clock. Could we switch them back on then?’
“So rather than become a documentary of watching a plane wreck, we allowed that. They were incredibly friendly to us.”
Christopher Eccleston smiles as Hugo relates the tale. The Salford-born actor plays Joseph Bede in the darkly menacing crime drama that aims to surprise viewers and keep them guessing.
Bede runs a flower wholesalers which is used to launder drug money. We discover that he has put £1.5m of his own money into the business. While Bede’s wife Julie, played by Manchester actress Lesley Sharp, has just months to live.
“I first worked with Lesley on The Second Coming and her performance was one of the best of the last 20 years. So it was a great pleasure to know that we were going to work together again,” says Chris, 47.
“The attraction of playing the character was that he is, as far as I’m concerned, morally dead. When we meet him, he trafficks heroin. The key to the man’s humanity is his absolute, utter, innocent devotion to his wife. All the characters in this drama, hopefully, will be a problem for the audience. A grey area.”
Hugo explains that his original idea was one murder investigated by both sides of the line. “So it would be cops and criminals and the different methods that are used to pursue the result.
“But the thing which interested me the most was its morality. How far will you push that line of your own personal morality? And then when do you cross it? None of the characters end up where you think they’re going to go. They all go to places you don’t expect.”
Last seen on screen in Jimmy McGovern’s Salford and Manchester-filmed The Accused, Chris says he wanted to be part of The Shadow Line as soon as he read the script.
“Very well written scripts in drama in this day and age are very thin on the ground. And I know when actors see them they jump on them, because the bottom line is no matter how good an actor is, if you haven’t got the script you are not going to be very good. This was an easy job for the actors because the scripts are so well written.”
Doctor Who, Hillsborough and Lennon Naked actor Chris adds: “Joseph Bede is a devoted husband. He is an accountant, who trained originally in insurance, and because of events in the drama he is pushed forward to lead an operation of drug smuggling.
“What he is trying to do is to keep himself alive materially because of his wife’s illness and at the same time keep himself alive spiritually. So he wades into a very grey moral area.”
Co-produced by Shameless producers Company Pictures and Steve Coogan’s Baby Cow Productions, the drama features an ensemble cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor as Det Insp Jonah Gabriel, the chief investigating officer in the murder case.
It’s Gabriel’s first job since recovering from being shot. The bullet is still in his brain and he cannot remember parts of his past life.
While their characters may walk on different sides of the line, Chris explains that line can be blurred. “Is Bede a better person than the cop? They are very different people. They work on different sides of the law for a start.
“But, of course, we don’t know what Chiwetel’s character was like before the bullet in the brain, and indeed he doesn’t know what he was like. That is part of the drama.”
Coming just a few days after the conclusion of BBC1’s acclaimed Exile, The Shadow Line is also set to win plaudits for its intriguing brew over the next seven weeks.
Chris agrees that television drama may be moving into a new era. “It’s always a difficult period for actors to find roles. But I do feel there is a bit of a sea change.
“It seems to me that writers are being put at the centre of the work again. So I’m very hopeful at the moment. But it’s always difficult for actors. I think 90 per cent of us are out of work all the time.”