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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 30 May 2011
All too often these days on British TV, crime dramas and murder mysteries insist on spoon-feeding the viewer the facts, before arriving at a nicely wrapped-up conclusion, laden with mind-numbing exposition. Thankfully, 'The Shadow Line' is not one of those programmes. Namely, it shows, but doesn't tell. It doesn't insult your intelligence, something that's only too rare.

The lengthy opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the series. Two police officers inspecting a car, one dead body inside. The body is Harvey Wratten's, an infamous underworld drug baron recently released from prison after a mysterious and unexpected royal pardon. It soon becomes clear that this is far more than just a gangland assassination. Investigating is DI Jonah Gabriel, a disillusioned cop just returned to the force, recovering from an attempt on his life that left him with a bullet in his brain and a serious case of amnesia. We follow Gabriel as he delves into Wratten's murder and the drug-trafficking scene, uncovering far more than he would like.

Make no mistake: this is a pitch-dark, almost noir-ish crime drama, about morally compromised characters and the lengths that they will go to to survive. There have been comparisons made to 'The Wire' and 'The Killing', but you'll enjoy it a lot more if you just take it for what it is.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is brilliantly understated as Gabriel, struggling to juggle his personal and professional lives. Praise also for Christopher Eccleston as Bede, essentially the underworld foil for Gabriel, trying to keep a business afloat while watching his wife rapidly succumb to Alzheimer's. Stephen Rea as the enigmatic Gatehouse is mesmerising and utterly chilling to watch. His character proves himself a force of nature with his clinical and lethal temperament. His 'face-off' with Glickman (Sir Antony Sher) was, for me, one of the most compelling scenes in the whole series. Both performances were just electrifying.

There are a few things that may detract from the overall experience for some. You do get a few unnecessary lines of dialogue here and there, and no doubt people will complain that there isn't really any character that you can 'root for', but then they'd be missing the point. The series has also been described as a 'crime thriller', but in all honesty it's more of an ensemble character study, and is far too slow-paced to be a thriller, at least in the early episodes. This is more a case of false advertising, though, than any fault with the series itself. That's not to imply that the series is slow enough to be dull - far from it. The wheels are always turning and the final few episodes are absolutely thrilling to watch.

A word about the finale, which seems to have divided opinion. The reveal of the purpose behind the conspiracy does tie into the series' underlying themes of greed, control and corruption, but for some the ending was overwrought, self-indulgent, and contained one too many telegraphed twists. Personally, I share none of these complaints. I was glued to my seat the entire time, and by the time the credits rolled I felt I had watched something particularly satisfying. I can't ask for more.

For a BBC drama, this is cerebral and ambitious television. Is it a trendsetter? Probably not, but it's pleasing to see the Beeb trying something different for a change. Without a doubt, this is the finest drama I've ever seen them produce. Like others have said already, because of its mature and unrelenting nature The Shadow Line would not look out of place on a channel such as HBO. Overall, it's rewarding, engaging entertainment and if you like that then you'll love this.
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on 12 January 2012
This BBC 7-parter had been sitting around unviewed since way back last year. Finally gave it a spin at the weekend - well that was it, pretty well impossible just to watch one part with the next one sitting there waiting for you! Gripping, each episode leaves you wanting the next one, as I write this it's 5 down, 2 to go. Brilliant performances from everyone, particularly the young Spall (with a great David Walliams impression), Ecclestone and the spooky Mr Not-so-nice guy from Stephen Rea, and Anthony Sher.
Possibly a bit heavy on the violence for some, but a must see - watch this and be thankful we've still got a BBC to produce this sort of quality programme - there's so much more to TV than Midsommer Murders!!
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on 30 October 2011
Hard to fault this fine thriller. Excellent acting all round and I was great fan of the Spall role. Good twists and turns and some fine characters created. I feel the story could have run to more episodes rather than having to, at times, quickly explain what was going on. Rather like The Killing it needs 20 or so episodes.This is the sort of drama that must be explored..well thought out, produced and performed.
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on 30 August 2015
One of the least popular yet best BBC series ever made and, to me, one the top tv series of the last years. Many people just found it slow and not too enjoyable, but the great thing is that here, maybe more than in any other series, TV takes a step back and let the dark step in. Yes, because The Shadow Line is a gradual, inevitable and bitter descent to hell. A moral hell, which ends up being a very political, true and unsettling reflection of our System of Power, where there is no justice. Deep black noir series, at the same level as maybe The Wire.
And I also think it is not so little entertaining as they say, because the plot is complex yet understandable, the actors are fantastic (Stephen Rea as you never expect him), a lot of twists (but the right ones, not too many) and mysterious and complex characters.
I honestly did not expect that something so radical could come out of the small screen.
Blu ray is fantastic, with a great hd transfer. I only wished there were some extra explaining the production point of view on the story.
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on 13 May 2013
Intricate plotting and outstanding acting. Again, the paranoia over corruption at the highest levels of the UK police. I'd recommend it to anybody. Too bad it's not yet available in NTSC format for wider distribution in Canada.
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on 8 January 2012
BBC has been renowned for its gripping dramas that deal with uncomfortable subjects like corruption, greed, betrayal, and all at high places (not just in the lives of cliched crooks and shady tycoons). This series, which had me glued till the end, is an illustrious addition to that oeuvre. The acting is 5-star, so is the taut handling and the very-very dark & forbidding look at the personal demons that can haunt people: good or bad, dark or fair. However, after the conclusion of the series, I felt that in its attempt to be "realistic" (a loaded word, I am afraid) the finale kept too many people like me feeling cheated, as we found that the two characters whom we had been rooting for all along, would not come up triumphant. Besides, in the finale, the so-called-twists were entirely predictable. From the gun-to-the-mouth to the deviating laser, there was nothing that we had not seen. Jonah Gabriel and Joseph Bede were the two characters that had made many of us see it till the end, and I think that the way they were dealt with was unfair. But life is UNFAIR, isn't it? So, dropping of one star for this feeling of being under-handed, apart from it this is as good as it gets. Recommended.
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on 20 June 2011
Just Finished watching the seventh and final part of Hugo Blick's complex thriller again.The ending is both overdone and rushed which is a shame as this was building up nicely and promised to be a one heck of a finish.

Having said that, episodes 2 to 6 were edge of your seat stuff, leaving you impatiently waiting for the next week.

This was an intelligently written thriller with an excellent cast featuring Christopher Eccleston,Rafe Spall,Eve Best and Anthony Sher.

However it is Stephen Rea's brilliant performance as the chilling Gatehouse that makes this one of the best thrillers you are likely to see on TV.

If you missed this first time around, then I would not hesitate in buying the DVD version.
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on 27 August 2011
I came to this straight after watching my spiral 3 dvd and to be honest found the first episode a bit flat..

.. but by the end of 2 I was hooked,the way the story unfolds,the way we are suddenly taken in a different direction and at the end of the journey it all made sense,mind you have to think about it..

The few minuses for me was 1) the sound quality of the interior scenes every clacking footstep , every scrape of a chair ,echoey voices .. sort of thing you associate with a cash strapped "B" movie 2)the minimalist music score that sounded like it was destined for one of those cheapo "50 tune" door alarms that all sound the same 3) The guy who played Gabriel's immediate boss ,totally lacking in any onscreen prescence and therefore believability (if that is a word !)

However ! the rest of the cast were at the very least excellent with a special mention to Mr Gatehouse brilliantly written and realised..There were also some very smart visuals,little cameo's really,the final motorbike ride for example..
To anyone that thinks Scot and Bailey is the ultimate in crime drama I wouldn't bother,anyone for quality clever crime drama this is a must see....it will be a very shady journey but well worth getting onboard
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 January 2015
This is an excellent 7 hour BBC mini-series about police corruption, drug trafficking and human frailty. Pitch dark, and no important character is without fault or sins.

The performances are terrific. Chiwetel Ejiofor does very solid work as a detective returning to the job after having a bullet lodged in his brain when his partner is killed in a shooting. His memory has been damaged, so he can't remember that night, or if he and his partner were doing cop work, or were playing ball with the other side. It's a complex character, a man tortured by literally not knowing himself, not knowing his own secrets. Christopher Eccleston also does great work with an unusual and complicated role. If Ejiofor is a good guy, who may have been a bad one, then Eccelston is a bad guy with the soul of a good one. He just wants to get out with one last big score to help his sick wife, without hurting anyone. Stephen Rea is a lot of fun, if a bit one note as an ice cold super-baddie, and Rafe Spall creates a terrific, very different kind of scary bad guy -- one who is so odd, almost goofy, and quirky that it's hard to know when he's kidding, or when he'll suddenly go off in a big way. All the smaller roles are filled with top notch actors, making this a thriller that relies far more on complex behavior than shoot-outs for narrative drive and tension.

There are a few frustrating plot cheats along the way, but less than most stories in this genre (the fact that it's generally so damn good, makes the few wonky moments stand out more.). Director-writer-producer Hugo Blick has a great eye for color and noirish framing, and a feel for messy morality that serves him very well here -- and even better in his more recent mini- series "The Honorable Woman." If you liked that, there's a good chance you'll like this, and vice-versa.
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on 23 March 2015
This was just top notch entertainment. Right from the first scene, the series just rattles along. The characters are engrossing and beautifully developed, with some great performances from all the cast. Chiwetel Ejofor is superb, playing Jonah the policeman coming back to work suffering from amnesia. As a copper who wants to do right, struggling with his loss of memory, his pain is etched all over his face. The dialogue, for the most part, between the characters just crackles along and the tension, at times, is almost unbearable. Yes, the final episode, does feel like there were too many things happening, but this did not spoil the entertainment at all. This is a series where everybody is at the top of their game. Fantastic!!!
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