I love Line Of Duty. I love Steve Arnott and his chippy little ways; I love Kate Fleming’s calm insouciance; I love Ted Hastings and his paternal, old-fashioned sheriff ways; and, more to the point, I love the fact that writer and director Jed Mercurio has torn up the rule book when it comes to crime drama. He kills people – established characters no less – without too much concern. Big-name actors, too. I love the fact that the characters he allows to stick around are deeply flawed but have so much ambiguity you don’t know whether you’re coming or going with them. Lenny James’ Tony Gates, Keeley Hawes’ Lindsay Denton, Daniel Mays’ Danny Waldron. and not forgetting Craig Parkinson’s Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan. Heck, even the members of AC-12 are hardly heroes in the traditional sense. They all had so much going on with their characters – nuances, depth, emotional entry points. You weren’t sure whether to love them or hate them. So the addition of Thandie Newton – a seriously good actress – and her character DCI Roz Huntley should have been a shoo-in into this esteemed gang of flawed are-they-aren’t-they characters. But with the series finale looming large on the horizon, I’m still waiting for the moment when things click with me with Roz Huntley. As dazzling and as addictive as the show is, I’m not quite there with it this series. Why?
NB: Spoilers inside
Each of the aforementioned subjects of AC-12’s wrath – Gates, Denton, Waldron, Cotton – have had real human qualities to them. They all did what they did for plausible, believable reasons. We all fuck up from time to time and they all fucked up royally and in ways that befit television crime drama, but we understood why they did it (eventually). Tony Gates (the brilliant Lennie James) did what he did for love; Denton’s collusion was because she felt sympathy for a teenage girl being pimped out and abused by gang boss Tommy Hunter; Danny Waldron killed in an act of vigilantism against a paedophile ring; Dot Cottan, well… there was no real saving grace to him, but there was something strangely likeable about him despite being nasty character. He entered the system when he was young, was corrupted, chewed up and, finally, found himself a lone, slightly dorky bloke with nowhere else left to turn. Corruption was all that he knew. That and cooking.
So all these Line Of Duty characters had deep flaws but they did what they did because there was a reason. Proper reasons that, within the context of the show, seemed to be plausible. We were never sure whether Lindsay Denton was a good ‘un or a wrong ‘un right up until the last moment, for instance, and there’s great skill in writing a character with so many contrasting traits that leave us guessing.
So many times Denton had us on the verge of tears with her lonely life, her elderly ill mother, that mournful piano scene, the abuse she received in prison (THE HANDS, THE HANDS!) and the awful scene where she was propositioned by a sleazy parole officer. And that’s not even mentioning how she was treated by AC-12. And then, and then, and then… there was the way she selflessly gave up her own life at the end of series three, perhaps even knowing she was going to be killed by Dot as she got into his car in order to help expose him and the truth.
Here’s our very own Deborah, who has been reviewing the show for us:
Lindsay Denton was totally enigmatic and impossible to read – a complete loner who could even have been quite high up on the autistic spectrum. She had few emotional ties beyond her mother, and could not easily form relationships – especially with men. Even her relationships with noisy neighbours were fraught (she related better to her cat) so she had to create her own world. This of course probably made her forensic in her thinking and as she lacked a normal conscience, was adept at lying or creating false truths that she could commit to when under attack.
This made it hard for AC-12 to read her or even catch her out in lies during interview because she was good at being the outsider, the victim. However, as we realised at the end in her fatal clash with Cottan, she did have a moral sense of right and wrong and duty with no shades of grey. She proved to be a decent copper to her core. Kelley Hawes has never been better – she made Denton hard to like but as her life became hell, she ultimately commanded our sympathy and respect.
Lindsay Denton was one heck of a character that inspired all the emotions. Roz Huntley? For me the opposite is true. I can’t get a handle on her and there doesn’t seem to be any entry points into her personality. She’s as cold as ice; hard as granite. She’s impenetrable.
And sometimes that combination isn’t good for an audience.
I was discussing Huntley – and indeed series four as a whole – with award-winning crime writer Sarah Hilary, who expressed deep frustration with not only Huntley’s character but with the entire series, which she believes has taken a step back this year. We talked about how Huntley is so unlikable it’s difficult to actually care for her and, subsequently, become emotionally invested in her and her story; we talked about how everyone in this series seems to be some sort of colossal shit, even characters we previously kind of liked; we talked about how even the ambiguous AC-12 has lost that ambiguity and become downright unlikeable (even Ted, that previously loveable patriarch, has become camp and unlikeable in this series); and we spoke about how Kate’s role in this series seems to be not much more than peering over the top of a computer screen. All valid points, and many that I agree with.
There’s also a sense that even though there’s something reassuring about the interview scenes and the killing off of characters, we’re starting to go around in circles a bit. Indeed, a bright spark on Twitter posted this up the other day – Line Of Duty bingo:
The set-pieces are still dazzling: the interview scene in episode four when Huntley spectacularly turned the tables on AC-12 was punch-the-air fantastic, and her strident points to Kate about having to work so hard to get where she was in her career were also understandable and admirable, especially in an industry that’s still seemingly ruled by chauvinism and misogyny. But whether we liked her after these brief expansions on her personality is another matter – she seems so manipulative, so ruthless and so narcissistic you can’t like her. You just can’t. Not even knowing that she’s a wife and a mother (where are the kids, by the way) – all traditional devices and add-ons in drama that give characters warmth and empathy – as well as having her arm lopped off haven’t humanised her.
She’s a steroidal Lady Macbeth.
Here’s Our Debs again:
Huntley is the polar opposite to Denton. She is ostensibly a loving wife and mother, who is sociable and popular with her colleagues but very high-maintenance and incredibly manipulative – especially with men. Thandie Newton has really had her work cut out to make Huntley likeable. We don’t sympathise with her or respect her. Although she works with women, she is not supportive or sisterly but seems to distrust them as ‘the opposition’ (she obviously feels threatened by her ‘Mini-Me’ Jodie). She might have used her sexuality as much as her intellectual powers during her career – using her womanly wiles to leapfrog male colleagues in her hunger for promotion after taking time out to have children. The fact that she’s playing footsie with the assistant chief constable says something about her considerable powers of persuasion. Her sexuality, of course, doesn’t work on dour old Hastings, however, it makes him uncomfortable and this is why he totally lost control of the interrogation last week. He’s never at ease with sexually aggressive women; remember his discomfiture with predatory police lawyer Gill Biggeloe (Polly Walker) in the previous series? Why does Huntley feel so passed over and slighted in her career? She is nakedly ambitious and cold-hearted with a vastly inflated sense of her own skills and worth. Basically, we think Hastings is right – she just isn’t good at her job. She is good at dissembling and working against her colleagues, but that isn’t the same thing.
I agree with Debs and Sarah here – this level of looking after oneself and supreme narcissism doesn’t make her a good cop (despite Jodie’s level of devotion), it makes her an awful and dangerously incompetent one.
With the finale on Sunday we’re still yet to find out why she is like she is, and I really hope we find out why. We desperately want and need to know. Roz Huntey’s shield of impenetrability needs to shatter a bit. We need an in-point, something to grab onto emotionally. And we need to know why she framed Michael Farmer.
(Although Sarah made the point to me that they’re leaving it a little bit late for a full, decent redemption.)
Let’s face it – there’s still nothing quite like Line Of Duty on British television. It’s fast, furious, ridiculous, thrilling, intense and inspires much online OMGness. And I love it, I do. But this series has left me a little confused and frustrated.
Of course, Jed Mercurio holds all the aces. At the press launch, Thandie Newton explained that she had tried to give Roz Huntley a few human touches, but Mercurio emphatically told her not to. He wanted her to play it straighter than the straightest bat. Never mind Roz Huntley being an arch-manipulator; it’s Mercurio who’s the master manipulator in all this – if he’s deliberately making Huntley a character that’s so difficult to like, there must be a reason for this. He must have something large up his sleeve.
And that’s why we love Line Of Duty: you never know what’s going to happen. And of course that’s the point: each series is different; each character arc is different; and each character is different. But when it comes down to whether we prefer Lindsay Denton or Roz Huntley as a character, at this present moment there’s no contest. GO TEAM LINDSAY!
Now it’s time to tell us what you think…
For all our Line Of Duty reviews, go here
Sarah Hilary’s latest book, Quieter Than Killing, featuring Marnie Rome, is out to buy now. Here’s a link to Sarah’s Amazon page, so just click here (although, you should go and buy it from your favourite independent bookstore and have a coffee and a bit of cake and maybe buy something else from there, too.