This is steely Keeley’s show and she nails it. I’ve always thought she was brilliant even in ‘Spooks’ (2002-2011), though many people have felt her tall, intimidating beauty often overshadowed her acting skills. This couldn’t be a more different role from saucy, sexy Keeley we saw in ‘Ashes to Ashes’ (2008-2010).
But what makes DI Denton such a brilliant female character is how uniquely unsexualised she is. She’s never wearing make-up or hair extensions or revealing clothing and she never needs a man to complete her - we never see her having sex, for example. This is the defintion of beating the Bechdel Test - a female character who isn’t defined by her sexual relations or need for a man in her life.
TV hasn’t written women this good since the Scandi-Noirs of ‘Borgen’ (2012-), ‘The Killing’ (‘Forbrydelsen’) (2007-2012) and ‘The Bridge’ (‘Bron-Broen’) (2012-2018). Steely Keeley keeps us guessing all the way through and she very deservedly was BAFTA-nominated for her performance here. It is a tour de force and you’re never quite sure of Denton’s true motive even at the very end.
There’s multiple storylines and subplots that keep converging like a multi-layered tapestry of a crime map. We get the sense in this police force that everyone could be corrupt and no one can be trusted. It’s a seedy world of deceit, lies and treachery - very John Le Carre-esque.
I don’t think we’ve seen a TV mystery so good since ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ (1979) in the 70s. This show shares that show’s moral grey areas, blurred morality and sense that everyone is under suspicion.
As ever with ‘Line of Duty’, it’s also shockingly realistic. I especially love the lengthy interview scenes like when DCC Dryden is questioned. It should be so procedural and mundane and boring, but it’s not - it’s some of the most gripping television I’ve ever seen.
But this series belongs to Keeley Hawes and DI Lindsay Denton who is one of the greatest female TV characters of recent years. Good on you, Keeley. God bless ya!
‘Line of Duty’ is on BBC iPlayer now.
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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