Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Police Drama
Availability: TVNZ on demand, SBS on demand
Plot: Developed by Kelly Jones,The Long Call is a new police drama adapted from Ann Cleeves recent novel by the same name. Previous adaptations of her crime novels have been hugely successful, Vera for example, and Shetland, both exceptional in the genre. This time it’s DI Matthew Venn, a new character for Cleeves, who returns to his old home town in North Devon with his husband Jonathan. It turns out Matthew grew up in an Brethren community that a colleague in the police calls a ‘cult’. Having been shunned from the community twenty years previously, Matthew has some baggage to deal with. In no time he is investigating the murder of Simon Walton, an alcoholic unemployed man who has been stabbed to death on the beach. Simon attended the local community centre that is run by Jonathan – a delightful place – but soon everyone who has had anything to do with him and the centre is looking shifty. There are secrets in abundance as Matthew and his team begin to uncover Simon’s story.
Cast: From the beginning of the series it is clear that DI Venn is no Vera Stanhope. Nor does he have the engaging charm of Shetland’s Jimmy Perez. Matthew is an awkward character, both in the book and in the series. While Ben Aldridge captures this awkwardness well in the lead role, it doesn’t help to make his character likeable. His team mate, DC Rafferty, played by Pearl Mackie, doesn’t help matters. Her rapid-fire delivery of the lines makes the dialogue difficult to follow. So not the best duo to have in the lead roles. Everyone else does pretty well, with two standouts. Martin Shaw plays the Brethren leader, Dennis Stephenson, with complexity (once I got over his ‘George Gently’ associations), and Juliet Stevenson pulls off the role of Dorothy, Matthew’s estranged mother, in an impressively restrained and twitchy sort of way.
Filming and Setting: The Long Call was filmed on the spectacular coastal area of North Devon, and great use is made of this stunning location. There are lots of views out to the ocean as Matthew takes his morning swims from their quaint, partly renovated beachfront house. There are also charming village scenes, and great aerial shots. It’s worth watching just for this.
Personal Comments: The series has an impressive pedigree, and it’s difficult not to make comparisons with the TV adaptations of other novels by Cleeves. But based on this first series, The Long Call doesn’t stack up anywhere near Vera or Shetland. That said, it does have some unique aspects that give it potential. Matthew’s Brethren history provides an interesting context. But more interesting still, is seeing a gay man in charge of a police investigation. Surprisingly we’ve not seen that before. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gay policeman on TV. It adds an important dimension to police drama more generally. In the end, whether The Long Call generates an enduring following is yet to be seen. But to do so, Matthew will need to become rather more engaging, and we’ll need to be able to understand what DC Rafferty says. But then, I guess it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve needed subtitles in a British production.