Line of Duty review – bent-copper bashers prepare to suck diesel | Television & radio


They’ve got information from a Chis handler possibly relevant to Vella! Intel’s graded the info 1A on the matrix and it’s the first lead they’ve had on Operation Lighthouse for months! NOW we’re sucking diesel!

If the above makes little to no sense, you’ve either not watched the first five seasons of Line of Duty (BBC One) or … you have. The impenetrability is the point. The accuracy and detail by which the police procedural, Jed Mercurio’s third-finest work (the first two, informed by his years as a hospital doctor, are Cardiac Arrest and Bodies – I will brook no riposte), is characterised has become legendary. Jargon, shorthand and acronyms abound, and the viewer must either keep a glossary to hand or just go along for the ride, enjoying the breeze in their hair as the abbreviations whip past even faster than the plot. PNC! HCP! MIT! HGP! (Unless that’s HCP again and I just misheard.)

The sixth series opens as strongly as ever. To translate (with the aid of Google) the opening paragraph for you: a Covert Human Intelligence Source (Chis) or “snitch” as they might have had it in The Sweeney, has told their police handler that a man called Ross Turner admitted to them that he killed Grace Vella. Vella was a journalist shot dead at point-blank range and on whose case very little progress has been made. “Sucking diesel” is the preferred expression of delight by head of anti-corruption unit AC-12 Supt Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) when one of his men (not to be confused with “one of our own”, which generally prefigures disaster) catches a break. Hastings hasn’t turned up yet, however. So far we are with the MIT – murder investigation team – led by DI Jo Davidson. She is played by Kelly Macdonald, following in the hallowed footsteps of Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Thandie Newton, Stephen Graham and others as the guest star around whom increasingly large numbers of plot threads promise to twist and gather under increasing tension until AC-12 manages to unpick everything.

AC-12 doesn’t get involved until one of Davidson’s team, PC Farida Jatri (Anneika Rose) reports her concern that her boss diverted them to an armed robbery she seemed to spot through a brick wall on their way to arrest the Vella suspect, and did so to give the suspect time to get away. DI Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) takes the call and this seems as good a time as any to inform you – and my intel is A1 on the matrix here – that this series will become known, however compelling it proves to be, however many shock twists and sudden deaths and revelatory performances we witness, as “The One Where Arnott Has a Full Beard”. I mean, I quite like it. It’s just that part of me feels that after five series of commitment from viewers, we should be consulted before this kind of character choice is made.

Anyway. Arnott slightly fudges his way to getting Hastings to allow him to investigate, and before the hour is up the stage is set, balls are in play, seeds are planted, plates are spinning and wheels are in motion. Suspicions are gathering, at least one gasp-worthy moment has been delivered and there is altogether a fine sense that we are gearing up for an absolute humdinger of a series. Longtime fans will remain slightly on edge, however. Every Line of Duty outing begins explosively. There hasn’t been one that hasn’t been utterly addictive at the off. The trick is to keep up the level of intrigue and credibility, and the previous series stumbled, badly, particularly with believability. The main storyline flagged, with Compston and Vicky McClure – as Kate Fleming, the third part of the anti-corruption triumvirate headed by Hastings – given embarrassingly little to do with an often embarrassingly clunky script. The overarching storyline about H – the alleged spider at the centre of a web of police corruption – was almost irredeemably fumbled in the finale.

But Line of Duty’s back and it so far seems just as good, if not better, than ever. If it can hold to its successful formula without tipping into parody, if it can find its way back from the H debacle, and if it can weave its customarily masterful narrative spell without tying itself or us in knots – well, then we’ll all be sucking diesel.

This article was amended on 22 March 2021 to make clear that in the current series Steve Arnott has a full beard, rather than a new one.

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