By Arturo R. García
The feel-good hit of last summer…this was not.
During its original run, some people called The Shadow Line “the British Wire,” which isn’t quite fair. In fact, it’s more accurate to call Chiwetel Ejiofor’s seven-part miniseries, currently airing on DirecTV’s Audience Network, an appropriately somber example of British gangster fiction done right. Some spoilers are under the cut
Now, when we say “British gangster fiction,” we’re referring more to films like Gangster No. 1 than the latter half of the Guy Ritchie oeuvre. The people on both sides of the line–specifically, a critical drug deal–range in their amount of surliness but, above all, they’re professionals.
Which might be part of the reason Shadow didn’t get as much attention as Idris Elba’s Luther, which was all flash-bang and sturm und drang.
When we meet Gabriel, he’s barely back on the force, over the blatant objection of his commander (Ace Bhatti). It’s an old trope–the cop on the comeback trail–but Gabriel’s case is different. Instead of his career being on the mend, it’s Gabriel himself; a bust gone bad has left Gabriel with a bullet tucked close to his brain but no memory of what went wrong.
But before he can piece that together, he’s handed a new case: a local drug kingpin is found dead just hours after getting a rare royal pardon for reasons unknown. And not only are Gabriel and his partner Lia (Kierston Wareing) now looking for the killer, but so are the gangster’s associates, particularly Joseph Bede (Christopher Eccleston), a florist who had gambled his own life savings to set up just one big score for himself and his wife.
Gabriel slowly makes his way to the center of the web, without knowing much about the other players in the multiple parties touched by the case. And if you’re looking for a point of contrast between Ejiofor’s character and Elba’s, start here: Whereas Elba’s John Luther was at times less a man than a gathering storm, Ejiofor crafts a character who’s out of his depth but, in true noir fashion, resigned to keep digging; when one of his supervisors asks him why he’d want to jump into the “snake pit” surrounding the case, Gabriel simply says, “it’s what we do.”
Throughout the series, showrunner Hugo Blick makes sure his characters are as uneasy about their moves as the viewer; the only one above the fray is the mysterious Gatehouse (Stephen Rea, cutting an Omar Little-like figure), but there’s rarely a moment when somebody’s not tense. Gabriel’s world and his fight are in no way pretty, but Shadow is a worthwhile addition to your Blu-Ray collection–if you’ve got the stomach to visit it.