'The Shadow Line' - Alex's Review


Reluctantly, I've revisited 'The Shadow Line' (the first multi-part British drama for Chris Eccleston since 2005) and watched it again, in two sittings. And that prompted me to write down some thoughts, ridiculously late. With spoilers.


I'm afraid I'm still not enamoured. To begin with, I still have issues with the editing. If you watch any of the current run-of-the-mill hi-tech series for young audiences, you will find perfect examples of fluid metonymical visual storytelling. What 'The Shadow Line' does is very basic. Sure, there are some great sequences, but they mostly owe to the on-set scene work and not something achieved in post-production. And yes, light and shadows are fully explored. But the whole construction is unbearably flat. And it's a shame because this side could have really lifted 'The Shadow Line'.

And many of the characters could indeed do with a leg up. Especially the police and their associates – behind the fa├žade, only shadows. Nothing truly enticing, nothing repelling. No matter that there are friends and enemies and harbourers of secrets – they all seem part of the same mass. The evil side is more lucky with its individuals.

But are the shapeless characters or the technical side the reason why I was postponing the rewatch? Neither. It's actually Joseph Bede.

Christopher Eccleston's Joseph Bede. I can understand he finds it easy to praise Hugo Blick, the author of the series. Bede is the most intricately built character and thus cannot help but stand out among the ones created out of air. For better or for worse. And Eccleston is absolutely sublime from start to finish.

I found his story very hard to watch. Despite all the talk that the series offered more than traditional endings, after one scene I had no doubts Joseph's would be a very traditional one. I've no idea were this narrative reading stems from, but when his wife lashed out and then he was throwing up, I knew for certain that he's not making out of this alive. If I had to analyse it, that incident was the breaking point – either he toughens up, or he goes down. (And bad guys don't have this choice, it's the good ones with a layer of bad that do. This contrasts nicely with Babur, by the way – he appears to be Bede's equivalent, but he actually is the reverse, bad with a layer of good.)

So you can observe Joseph, from a slightly better vantage point than he has. He's reliable and steady at work – in a drug cartel. How did he end up there and why is he unscrupulous? And he's playing a long game. Which he lost at the moment of Harvey's death. He chose to carry on even though there's only Maurice to watch his back. On the home front, Bede is alone as well. The lucid moments of his wife he opted to wait for turned out to be the ones to dread. His moments of weakness were the best moments he had. All in all, as the song goes, his only mistake was that he was hoping. There's no 'where it matters most'.

And that's what made it all inevitable, heartbreaking and, story-wise, right. Following the series originally, I rather enjoyed the dynamic between Joseph and Jay (the walking shop of horrors), and this proved to be one of the points that made the rewatch worthwhile – knowledge of the outcome sharpened their interactions, and I would say it's the strongest written thread. It alone could've easily become a core for a film, shade of film noir, shade of classical tragedies. Wouldn't it be enough to focus on multifaceted bad guys? Especially when there's little left for the sort-of-good side – which was supposed to act as a catalyst but only diluted the mixture?

To conclude, there are easier ways to watch Turkish TV. Still. It's not a bad series to think about. It gets better on the theoretical plain. But it's not something I'm tempted to return to soon, even if it's easily among Eccleston's best character work.

P.S.: In the summer of 2010, whilst still filming, Eccleston revealed the series finale's main point in the interview with Isle of Man radio 3FM: "It's about the pursuit of pensions."


2011-10-17

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