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BBC

Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, and Adrian Dunbar
BBC

Television

Crossing lines

In the BBC’s Line of Duty, the bad guys are sometimes wearing a badge

When police are the criminals, who will bring them to justice? In the popular British TV drama Line of Duty, police anti-corruption unit AC-12 searches out rotten cops but finds that the decay has gone deep within the force. The long-running series, now with five seasons available on Amazon Prime, debuted in 2012 and is one of the BBC’s most highly rated crime shows.

Detective Sgt. Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) joins AC-12 when he refuses to cover up a botched police operation that resulted in an innocent man’s death. He teams up with Detective Inspector Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), and both report to Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), who seems to be a straight arrow. Hastings even comes down hard on a star cop who accepted a free lunch from a waitress after a heroic rescue.

In previous seasons, the trio uncovered crime and corruption, sending crooked cops to jail while digging into layers of malfeasance. Each member of the AC-12 team proves to have weak points that the bad guys try to exploit to entice them to the other side.

In Season 5, police operation Pear Tree has embedded an undercover officer inside an organized crime ring. The gang hijacks a police convoy transporting heroin seized from a rival gang and murders several officers. Shortly afterward, the undercover officer goes silent. Has his identity been discovered, or has he gone rogue and joined the criminals?

During the investigation, Hastings’ financial and marital troubles make him vulnerable: Has the stalwart superintendent of AC-12 been compromised? Or is another member of the squad actually a “bent copper”?

Regrettably, violence, vulgarity, and blasphemy are prevalent in this crime drama. Filmed in gritty industrial locations in Birmingham (Season 1) and Northern Ireland, Line of Duty becomes increasingly dark and dreary as the episodes unfold. Even when good triumphs, the short-lived victories are tainted by evil. 

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SundanceTV

Damian Hardung as Adso and John Turturro as William of Baskerville
SundanceTV

Television

Rose with thorns

SundanceTV series The Name of the Rose explores spiritual themes, but explicit scenes mar the story

The late Italian literary theorist and semiotics scholar Umberto Eco, though not a believer in any religious doctrine, gave serious treatment to spiritual things. Thus, his novels often pop up on Christians’ lists of favorites. Theologian Michael Horton, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, and author and Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior all count themselves fans. When Eco died in 2016, Marvin Olasky wrote an extended obituary dealing with the contradictions and complexities in his thinking.

And yet, like a cross between Marcel Proust and Dan Brown, Eco included in his fiction plenty of pot-boiling intrigue rarely associated with works classified as “literature.” So, in today’s “peak TV” environment of marrying twisty plots to intellectual pretension, it’s hard to imagine a book better suited for television adaptation than Eco’s best-selling medieval murder mystery, The Name of the Rose

The classic Sherlockian plot of an uncannily observant detective (Friar William of Baskerville) solving a 14th-century “locked room” homicide with his faithful sidekick (the earnest and naïve novice, Adso of Melk) would be selling point enough. But the new SundanceTV series also capitalizes on the magnificent setting by filming on location at a mountaintop abbey in the Italian Alps—while trusting the audience’s intelligence and fleshing out Eco’s religious and philosophical themes. Almost shockingly for these days, the show allows appropriate historical attitudes to stand without accommodation for modern feelings. For example, when homosexual activity between two monks is mentioned (it is not shown), the protagonists never refer to it as anything but sinful.

In several ways, the series actually improves on the occasionally unwieldy novel, and it’s light years ahead of the 1986 Sean Connery film. 

John Turturro’s self-deprecating humor gives more likable shading to William’s know-it-all lectures. And additional subplots deepen the story’s appeal. Young Adso still sins with a peasant girl, but in this case the encounter is preceded first by friendship and then by a blooming romance. It’s both more realistic and more respectful toward women to give the girl a motivation beyond randy anonymous opportunism. 

Regrettably, the scene is as explicit as Eco wrote it and spoils an otherwise exceptional show (as do two other nonsexual scenes showing topless women). How many opportunities do Christian TV lovers have to see theological matters deeply debated, with the good guys making the more Biblical arguments? Where else is a viewer likely to hear the protagonist proclaim, “Christ did not come into the world to command but to be subject to the conditions He found”?  

William’s Franciscan brothers, acting as Martin Luther precursors, contend that although Christ owned all things, He relinquished His claim to wealth and power, therefore His followers should do the same. Meanwhile, their antagonists—Dominican envoys of a corrupt pope hoping to assert control over the emperor—heap up for themselves treasures on earth by putting vulgar price tags on absolution.  

Even Rupert Everett’s performance as Bishop Bernardo, who, with his slobbering and sneering at the foot of the crucifix, embodies the worst stereotypes of Christian zeal, can’t extinguish the light of those Franciscans. Their good-humored simplicity and deep Scriptural devotion proclaim a message: Though bad men abuse the gospel and roost in cathedrals for their own selfish ends, the true Church yet triumphs.

It all makes those fleshly scenes even more disappointing. As William of Baskerville himself observes, “Learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or can do, but also of knowing what we could and perhaps should not do.”

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Acorn TV


Acorn TV

Television

Manhunt

Manhunt portrays the human side of police work

Imagine Mister Rogers playing a criminal, or Sean Connery as a stay-at-home dad. Fans of the British series Doc Martin might be temporarily jarred to see Martin Clunes as a caring, empathetic police detective, but will soon lose themselves in Acorn TV’s three-part miniseries Manhunt.

Based on the memoirs of the real-life Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton (played by Clunes), Manhunt opens with a pedestrian discovering a body in the middle of Twickenham Park. The victim is Amélie Delagrange, a young French woman who had moved to London. Police looking for the killer find few clues, and Sutton is brought in to head up the investigation.

But police department rivalries get in the way of the work. Sutton’s wife Louise, who works for the Surrey Police force, warns him that such a high-profile case can make or unmake the investigator in charge. Louise’s boss is furious when Sutton tries to convince him that a murder case in Surrey may have connections to Delagrange’s killer. Still, Sutton persists and pushes his team to chase every lead.

The series masterfully portrays the human side of police work, but includes some vulgar language and occasional blasphemy. Sutton insists on personal and heartfelt communication with Delagrange’s parents: She was their only daughter, and the scenes of their grief are moving. As he interacts with the couple and accompanies them to Twickenham Park, we see a character much different from Doc Martin, infamous for his brutal and brusque communication with patients and friends.

Through dogged and plodding police work, Sutton’s team narrows its suspect list down to one, and discovers connections to other recent murder cases. Eventually, Sutton realizes that rivalries and lack of cooperation between departments and precincts are what have allowed his suspect to remain on the loose for so long. Delagrange’s parents accept his sincere apologies—delivered in person at their home in France—with grace.

Blinking back tears, Mr. Delagrange urges the detective: “What is important to us is that you carry on, and bring this evil man to justice.”

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