When you watch as much crime drama as we – and probably you – do, you start to notice patterns, don’t you? Familiar plotlines and stories that crop up time and time again. Some occur so frequently they’re nothing short of tired clichés. Others are merely, shall we say, ‘well-worn tropes’. The overall premise of ITV1’s The Long Call just about avoids the former, but definitely falls into the latter.
How often have we seen this before? A big city detective is drawn back to their small hometown where they must investigate a head-scratching murder while facing up to the secrets and trauma of their past… It’s pretty much the basic story behind at least half of every TV crimer we’ve seen this century, isn’t it?
The overarching plot may give viewers pangs of déjà vu and there’s certainly a recognisable tone and pace to the thing. It’s understandable, as The Long Call comes from the keyboard of none other than Ann Cleeves, the author of the Vera Stanhope books, basis for ITV’s Vera. The Brenda Blethyn-starring series has been running for ten years now, with eleven series and 42 episodes having graced our screens. Vera could well be the most underrated crime drama of the past decade. Consistently well-written and pleasingly formulaic, only the performances match the often laugh-out-loud script. What’s more, Cleeves also writes the novels that BBC One’s Shetland is based on. Another under-the-radar series that doesn’t get the credit it perhaps deserves. That’s all the more cache for this latest drama, then.
While this latest Cleeves adaptation isn’t quite as drily witty as Vera, the similarities are noticeable – and not unwelcome as far as we’re concerned. And while this four-parter (shown across four consecutive nights this week) may, on the surface, feel a bit staid and repetitive, it’s not. In fact, perhaps there’s something to be said for its familiarity. We all know the framework and that then allows The Long Call’s groundbreaking freshness to operate. Only, believe it or not, it’s the first television detective drama with a gay man as the lead character.
To the plot and DI Matthew Venn (Ben Aldrige, Fleabag) heads up a murder investigation team in Devon that’s assigned a rather tricky case indeed. A body is found on the beach. The team’s job is to work out who the man is and, of course, who killed him. Trouble is, information is scant and motives or suspects are hard to come by.
As a way of a back story, Matthew grew up in ‘a cult’, as it’s put at one point here by one of his more blunt colleagues. A fundamentalist evangelical sect that brings to mind the Quakers or Plymouth Brethren, it’s all headscarves, minimal modern technology, dreary meals and raptures. Now of course, this isn’t a lifestyle that suits or indeed accepts Matthew’s sexuality, which explains why he left the south west some years ago. You get the distinct impression that the next three episodes will provide plenty of opportunity for Matthew and his mother Dorothy – a very stern-looking Juliet Stevenson – to verbally scrap it out.
There’s more acting royalty in the religious community too, with not only Judge John Deed but Angie Watts making up the cast numbers. Martin Shaw and Anita Dobson add further touches of class to proceedings.
So far, we’re entertained enough. We’re hoping Matthew’s character softens a little, only he’s dangerously close to being a little dull so far. Luckily for us, his partner DS Jen Rafferty (Doctor Who’s Pearl Mackie) has more than enough personality to sustain our interest.
Will this new series end up with the legacy of Vera or Shetland? Could we be in for the long haul with The Long Call? We may well find out over the coming days…
Did you tune in for The Long Call episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on The Long Call episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
Things are getting complicated and intriguing as we hit the halfway stage of ITV 1’s newest four-nights-in-a-row crime drama. This week’s detective treat is The Long Call, a thoroughly watchable and enjoyable series based on the fiction of Shetland and Vera author Ann Cleeves. Two episodes in and we’re well and truly into the mystery of who killed Simon Walden and what exactly is going on with the Barum Brethren…
Monday night’s episode took a chilling turn at its conclusion with a 999 call from the abducted Rosa. Thankfully she’s found alive and well here, albeit unlikely to be able to remember who snatched her or why – which doesn’t particularly help the case.
Rosa had some sort of relationship with the victim, but it soon becomes clear that it wasn’t a romantic one. Instead, it seems as if Walden was trying to save her from some sort of predator. Immediately our suspicions fall onto Martin Shaw’s religious leader, Dennis Stephenson.
But there are plenty of other suspects bobbing about the shoreline. Mutton chopped Maurice showed his fierce side on Tuesday night. And artist-type Gaby is hardly what you’d call stable. What was with that painting she was working on and then decided to theatrically spoil? Was it of Walden? Or of our main detective DI Matthew Venn…?
Ben Aldridge gives a simple and sympathetic portrayal of lead character Venn, the head investigator on the case. He’s perfectly believable during his sleuthing work, but it’s in the scenes with his mother Dorothy – the outstanding Juliet Stevenson – where Aldridge really shines. The whodunit plot thread, while functional, is far from the most interesting aspect at play here. The Quaker-like sect and their casting out of Matthew as a younger man due to his sexuality is far more interesting.
The only gripe we have with the series so far is that it seems to have forgotten to have developed much of a personality for its central role. Cleeves’ other protagonists DI Vera Stanhope and DI Jimmy Perez are fully-formed and rounded characters with their own little idiosyncrasies. Perhaps we need to give Matthew Venn a little time to bed in. Trouble is, there are only two parts left for him to make an impact on The Long Call’s audience.
Alright, so it’s not the only gripe we have. This shouldn’t bother us, but it does… Why doesn’t Matthew have an accent?! A man who was born in Devon and moved to Bristol should not sound quite so home counties. Weirder still, Ben Aldridge is actually from Devon. You’d think he might have sprinkled his dialogue with at least the odd elongated vowel. Still, never mind.
As more suspects lurked and darker sides were revealed, we left the episode being firmly led to believe that the scheming Neil Morrissey-shaped Christopher Reasley may well be the killer. But no one brought in for questioning at the midway point is ever really the killer, so we look to have our first red herring of the series. To squirm off the hook, Reasley will have to explain why he harassed the murder victim so much and why he bought Rosa jewellery…
Of course, there really is zero chance that Christopher Reasley is behind any of it. The dark answers must surely lie within the church. Venn cracking the case will not only find the killer and kidnapper of Rosa, but – presumably – help him repair the damage of his past.
We’ll find out later this week.
Did you tune in for The Long Call episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on The Long Call episode 3? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
Somewhat strangely, there’s never been a gay lead detective on a TV show before. So when The Long Call’s DI Matthew Venn and his husband shared a kiss in the opening episode on ITV1 on Monday evening, it was the first of its kind. The programme makers treated the scene like any other, so Matthew’s sexuality doesn’t feel shoehorned in – even though it’s integral to the plot, there’s an air of the organic about it.
Cast out by his church and family some years previously, we were being led to believe that his mother Dorothy may have been thawing to the idea of having a gay son here in this third episode. Asking to come around for dinner, she seemed to slowly warm to Matthew and Jonathan (Declan Bennett, EastEnders). Slow, but touching progress, it seemed. Until our wily detective smelled a rat, correctly working out that his mother’s visit was a set-up orchestrated by the church elder, the controlling and coercive Dennis (Martin Shaw).
It seems as if acceptance and family reconciliation may not be possible for Matthew after all. Ah well, it’s fewer Christmas presents to buy, isn’t it?
Emotionally detached once more from the Brethren, he attempts to try and help Dennis’ wife Grace break free of her repressive spouse, but to no avail. Luckily for the investigation, he and his team have more luck with finding out what happened with Rosa.
As most viewers will have no doubt already guessed, Neil Morrissey’s charater Christopher Reasley wasn’t responsible for her abduction. As is the wont of most TV crime drama suspects, he was previously lying to police for another reason – specifically to the protect the Woodyard from the scandal of a sexual assault allegation. Not cool, Christopher. Not cool.
Given the setting – North Devon – it’s tempting to mutter ‘there’s something naaaasty in the Woodyard’ while watching this. Even though Cold Comfort Farm was set in Sussex. Still, with the varying rural southern accents offered up by the cast of The Long Call, you’d be forgiven.
Its setting, of course, brings to mind another hefty ITV hit. The Broadchurch aesthetics and vibe run through this four-parter as they have with so many other TV dramas since the David Tennant and Olivia Colman smash rocked British telly. Not that you hear us complaining, of course. Who doesn’t love a bit of pastel-coloured coastal crime?
Speaking of crime, we may not be any closer to finding Simon Walden’s killer after episode 3, but we have found out who forced themselves onto Rosa at the Woodyard. That something nasty was Ed Raveley (Amit Shah, The Courier), Caroline’s boyfriend. A break in the case. Well, a break in one of the cases. Albeit the two are intrinsically linked.
Thursday evening’s fourth and final part of The Long Call will no doubt tie up the loose ends and, hopefully, provide a satisfying ending. If the first three episodes are anything to go by (and why wouldn’t they be?), we’re pretty confident that a fully rounded story will have been told.
We could have done with perhaps a little more inspiration and personality on show here, but this is still very solid storytelling and more than worthy of our attention. Even if it is a wee bit, y’know, Broadchurch-y.
Did you tune in for The Long Call episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Some spoilers for The Long Call episode 4 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
As the credits rolled at the crescendo of ITV’s adaptation of Ann Cleeves’ 2019 book The Long Call, us viewers had plenty to mull over.
Firstly, of course, there was the murder plot. We began the final episode being led to believe that Rosa’s attacker Ed could well be responsible for the death of Simon Walden. But we all know that the true killer isn’t revealed at the three-quarter stage – nor is it presented to the audience at the five-sixths point. So when we told that Martin Shaw’s Dennis Stephenson was entirely to blame for the murder, only the most naïve of viewers would have bought it.
We’ll skirt around it a little just in case you’re yet to catch the entire fourth part, but while Dennis was technically responsible, he didn’t commit the act itself. Ever the coward, he relied on his authoritarian nature to manipulate someone else to carry out the dastardly deed.
At some points, the series has felt a little plodding, but as the climax built, so too did the tension. One pivotal scene towards the end not only brought action, but some terrific performances from the senior members of the cast. Shaw was impressive, but in just a few minutes, Anita Dobson stole the entire series.
With DI Matthew Venn’s strained relationship with his mother, Christopher and Caroline’s fraught kinship and the protectiveness of Maurice over Lucy, this was as much about the nature of long-term parental bonds as anything else. Coercive control, healing, forgiveness and, of course, religion and sexuality were also heavy themes. All of which were sensitively handled and served up to provoke thought and debate. These were the strengths of the series, more so – perhaps – than the murder investigation itself.
Altogether, The Long Call was an engaging, if fairly formulaic, drama. Aside from the lead character’s sexuality, an issue so far swerved by most TV detective series, there was very little going on that we haven’t seen before. Religious cults, domestic abuse, bodies on beaches, a raft of suspects lined up and ticked off as innocent at a familiar pace… This four-parter was hardly afraid of the genre’s tropes. That said, it was brought to us with an earnestness and honesty that was to be appreciated.
Quite a few recent offerings from ITV have relied too heavily on panache and stylistic flourishes to see them through. With The Long Call it was refreshing to once again watch a story unfold that was confident in its own writing and themes, that didn’t need to keep leaning back on fancy cinematography. Style over substance starts off thrilling, but can soon edge toward tedium. Television drama needs layers, content and – above all – quality source material. ITV knows this, it’s why they’re only too happy to adapt the work of Ann Cleeves as they have here.
What does the future hold for DI Matthew Venn and ITV? Well, this year saw the release of Cleeves’ second book in the series, The Heron’s Cry, so the source material is there if ITV wants it. Do the audience want it, though? Well, it looks as if they might. Monday’s opener peaked at just under 4 million viewers, with the next couple of episodes attracting some 2.5m. Those aren’t mega numbers, but it indicates that there’s a place in the schedules for DI Venn in the future.
As for us? Well, if there’s another Long Call in the future, we’d be only too happy to pick up the phone.
Did you tune in for The Long Call episode 4? What did you think of the series? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…