No-one does smart thrillers better than the BBC. This week we have enjoyed the double treat of Page Eight, a smart and contemporary David Hare spy drama, swiftly followed off by our completion of the boxed set of The Shadow Line.
I won't compare a series of seven with a feature length drama, but they both had superb casts and well written, tightly directed scripts. I feel more comfortable recommending Page Eight, however. I can just above forgive it's most ludicrous plot development involving Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz. However, hey, both brought a lightness and a subtle wit to the screen, even in times of great seriousness.
Lightness and wit isn't something you'd accuse The Shadow Line of. But, in the finest traditions of British TV drama it pulled an impressive cast - Antony Sher, Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea you will know about. Rea, in particular, was mesmerising and terrifying as Gatehouse, the most accomplished killer since the Borgias, as he was described towards the end. While Eccleston was as tragic and as doomed as he was in Cracker. But The Shadow Line will also prove to be a breakthrough for other impressive actors who starred such as Chiwetel Eijofor, Keirston Wareing, Rafe Spall and Freddie Fox who you may not be so familiar with. All turned in performances of brooding, competing tension that suggested a change of allegiance and confusion was never far away. We were gripped.
But, on balance, it was a deflating and depressing experience. Nothing changes, yet everybody, mostly, dies. It was a gloomy and ultimately ludicrous turn of events. It was laced with a pessimistic view of human nature and motivation, reinforcing the view too that no good deed goes unpunished.
And here's another thing. It's probably a budgetry issue, but though there were some scenes shot noticeably and obviously in London, most of it was shot in the Isle of Man. At no point did the story reflect this quick shift to hillsides and harbours, seemingly very close to London as to be seamless. This became ludicrous, especially for the most significant final scenes. I'm sure the Isle of Man Tourist Board and Film Council will be pleased with the outcome. The latter for hosting such a noted drama, and the former for managing to be disassociated from such nastiness.