Minor spoilers for The Tower episode 1 below.
A tall tale where we hope the plot doesn’t fall flat towards the end, The Tower is ITV’s latest multiple-nights-in-a-row crime thriller. It’s a high concept affair that tells the storeys of… Alright, let’s stop with the daft puns and explain properly.
We open by following two detectives as they rush to the scene of a nasty incident. A high-rise flat on a busy housing estate has been cordoned off. In a large puddle of blood and viscera at the bottom of ‘the tower’ are a hefty bobby on the beat and a young refugee girl. Both, quite obviously, dead.
Heading up to the roof and we meet the only three eyewitnesses to whatever happened: rookie PC Lizzie Adama (Tahirah Sharif – The Haunting of Bly Manor), her boss DI Kieran Shaw (Emmett J Scanlan – Hollyoaks, Peaky Blinders) and a five-year-old kid that, we’re soon told, was snatched by the now-dead teenager. Everyone’s in shock, there’s a puzzle to solve. Tasked with that very job are DS Sarah Collins (Gemma Whelan – Game of Thrones, Killing Eve) and DC Steve Bradshaw (Jimmy Akingbola – Ted Lasso).
A couple of things stood out here early on. After the exciting beginning, the picture of police life presented looked rather mundane. That’s not a criticism, if anything it’s a compliment. The police station looks run down, like an actual government building. The flashback chats in the squad cars are silly and irreverent and full of teasing and self-deprecation. Like many actual work conversations. Too many crime dramas show stations that look like Frank Gehry designs, with conversations between colleagues being tense stand-offs or philosophical musings.
Part of the reason there’s a level of realism here in The Tower, perhaps, comes from the source material. This three-parter is based on Kate London’s popular 2015 book Post Mortem, a novel praised on its publication for its gritty lifelike style. London was a serving Met copper before she took up writing.
Perhaps one of the lesser known parts of the job is how frequently you have to announce your name. Only in the opening scene here, ‘DS Sarah Collins from the Directorate of Special Investigations’ said just that at least three or four times. It was a little jarring but, to be fair, it does help you remember her name and who she works for. It’s DS Sarah Collins and she’s from the Directorate of Special Investigations. That’s DS Sarah Collins. The Directorate of Special Investigations.
The DSI are, of course, made up. They’re what a hard-boiled ‘80’s cop thriller would call ‘goddamn internal affairs’. They investigate ‘their own’. Shocking and bloody deaths, made-up departments snooping around bent coppers… any bells ringing?
Luckily for us, The Tower isn’t a cheap Line of Duty rip-off. It – mostly – has its own style, albeit not a hugely original one. Despite the odd realistic detail, many of the tropes of the TV police drama are evident here.
Onto the slightly less impressive side of The Tower. Not for the first time when discussing a television drama, our first complaint is about the sound. It’s a common issue that us viewers seem to whinge about eternally but programme makers never seem to take note of. Maybe they can’t hear us. So let’s be clear:
STOP. MUMBLING. AND. RUSHING. DIALOGUE!
There was an almost incredible scene at around the midway point here in this opening episode. In about thirty seconds, several potentially key plot points were trotted off in double quick time by DI Shaw in a barely audible murmur. Mumbled under his breath in a thick Dublin accent, even an Irish dolphin would’ve struggled to pick up what he said. Yet again, this is another TV drama that most of us will be forced to watch with the subtitles turned on.
Sound issues aside, there’s plenty to like so far about The Tower. We’ll get further into the storyline in our reviews of parts two and three later in the week. Both of which we have high hopes for.
‘High hopes’? Like a tower… No? Suit yourself.
Did you catch the first episode of this Kate London adaptation? Enjoy it? Tell us your opinions on The Tower episode 1 in the comments below…
Minor spoilers for The Tower episode 2 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
We’re a little closer to finding out how those two people found themselves plummeting off the roof of the titular tower here after Tuesday night’s second part of this Kate London adaptation. We will, of course, need to wait for the third and final episode to learn the full story. Who killed Hadley Matthews and Farah Mehinni? We don’t know but we’re pretty sure that DS Sarah Collins and her garish anorak will get to the bottom of it.
We’ve been given a further glimpse into Sarah’s personal life here, but it really was just a peek. Which, really, is no bad thing. The main story is strong; we’re happy to concentrate on it. And with just three episodes to tell it in, any major detours into subplots may well have derailed the whole thing. We already knew that DS Collins was pining for someone she’d lost. Here we find out that her recently-departed ex is now pregnant with her new partner.
Sarah’s personal issues aren’t affecting her work, but her slimy boss chides her somewhat about how they might be. As the head of an AC-12-type department, the shifty DCI Tim Bailie (Karl Davies – Happy Valley, Chernobyl) does a good job of appearing like he may very well be corrupt himself. Only he does seem oddly keen to help protect the effortlessly dodgy and luxuriously bearded DI Kieran Shaw.
The stand-out performer in the cast here in this second instalment is Tahirah Sharif as the heavily conflicted PC Lizzie Adama. She conveys the split loyalties and moral dilemma of her situation with real elegance and subtlety. Adama’s is a tricky situation in all timelines. In the present she has to work out whether to stay on the run or hand herself and help with the investigation. In the flashback scenes, she’s torn as to whether or not to lie on a report to help get her colleague and friend Hadley off the hook after an allegation of racism is made against him.
Perhaps the strongest part of the entire story is the complexity of Lizzie and Hadley’s relationship. It’d be easy to make the rotund copper a cardboard cutout bigot, but real-life racism is rarely that simple. Hadley is friendly with Lizzie and supportive of other black and Asian colleagues. When he says he’s not racist, he probably thinks he isn’t – yet he simultaneously refers to a young refugee girl as ‘Little Miss Jihadi’.
The Tower excels when it focuses on being realistic. Maybe that’s why there’s so much mumbling and inaudible dialogue in it. After all, just think about your average day. It’s all ‘what?’, ‘pardon?’ and ‘eh?’, isn’t it? At least it is in our house.
We can’t say whether bodycams being shut off in order to threaten victims of crime with sectioning for non-compliance is realistic or not, though. Let’s hope not.
The realism is spoiled tiny bit by the presence of the victim Farah’s dad, Younes Mehenni. He’s played by Nabil Elouahabi, famous as ‘Gary!’ from the 2002 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special. It’s difficult to think of him as anyone else. Or maybe that’s just us.
Wednesday evening’s final of the three parts should tie up any loose ends. So far it’s been a tight, lean story with interesting themes, told intelligently. Has there been enough shown to make viewers demand for a return of DI Collins and her fetchingly bright orange anorak? We’ll make up our minds after the finale.
Did you tune in for The Tower episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Spoilers for The Tower episode 3 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
Down-to-earth plotting, relatable characters, authentic-looking sets and believable dialogue… Almost everything about ITV’s cop corruption thriller The Tower has screamed ‘REALISM!’ at us this week.
Where its similarly-themed BBC rival Line of Duty tends to lean into histrionics and schlocky twists and turns – sometimes just for the sake of it – this mini-series has played it straight all week. Entirely to its credit.
The third and final episode opened with PC Lizzie Adama confronting her boss and lover Kieran. She explained how she planned to hand herself in and admit the various lies and cover-ups that had led to the deaths of young Farrah and PC Hadley Matthews. If this were Line of Duty, the scene would have ended with Shaw gunning Lizzie down and dragging her body into a nearby pond. As it wasn’t, we got a more realistic conclusion.
After some textbook sleuthing and a little interrogating, DS Sarah Collins (Gemma Whelan) and DC Steve Bradshaw (Jimmy Akingbola) finally uncovered the truth. With Lizzie’s assistance, what happened on the roof of the tower block was revealed: it was all an accident…
Lizzie had tried to grab Farrah to pull her to safety but it ended in her falling. Matthews, also trying to assist, was caught up and fell to his death too. At least that was her story and everyone was sticking to it. Sarah knew better, though. Matthews had Farrah’s skin under his fingernails. It’s likely he shoved her off the building and Lizzie is covering for him. And herself. Something Steve helped facilitate. Disgusted by everything and everyone for their deception, Sarah arranged for a transfer out of the department as the final scenes loomed.
While The Tower may not have exploded and become a phenomenon quite like Line of Duty, it has proven popular with viewers. So there’s every chance that we could well see the return of DS Collins and her orange anorak.
This three-parter was based on former police officer Kate London’s debut novel Post Mortem, which was published in 2015. Since then, London has seen two more of her books hit the shelves: Death Message in 2017 and Gallowstree Lane in 2019. A fourth addition to the series is slated for 2023. So the source material is there if ITV are keen.
If Gemma Whelan is to return to the role, we’d like to see her given time and scope to grow the character a little. We’ve enjoyed the story-focused approach here, but some background and a little more personality from Sarah wouldn’t go amiss in the future. We’re sure that Homeland writer and executive producer Patrick Harbinson, who adapted Post Mortem into The Tower here, would relish the opportunity to develop the characters and world they live in.
If commissioned, the series would follow the books’ lead which soon sees Sarah and Lizzie pair up, a classic mismatched team. As PC Lizzie Adama, Tahirah Sharif was the best thing about The Tower’s first appearance on our screens. So we’d warmly welcome a new series at some point in the future.
Did you tune in for The Tower episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…