Former journalist and award-winning writer Danny Brocklehurst is well known for gritty TV dramas such as Clocking Off, Shameless, and Accused. BBC One’s new three part series The Driver continues to explore a contemporary urban milieu but from the genre confines of a crime thriller. Brocklehurst already has form in this area, having written three series of Stone – a detective drama for radio.
The first episode of The Driver instantly floored the accelerator, dropping the viewer into a nerve-wracking car chase through the streets of Manchester as Vince McKee (Morrissey) attempts to escape the cops. It’s an excellent action sequence, exciting and tightly edited, allowing series director Jamie Payne to show his skills as much as the protagonist, who demonstrates some breathtaking handbrake turns.
The story then jumps back a short period in time to show how the character came to be in this position. In fact McKee is a rather ordinary and frustrated man, clearly at an impasse in his life: he is seeking (and not receiving) treatment for depression, hitting the age when his children are leaving home, finding himself disappointed (and disappointing) in his marriage, frustrated by the grind of his job as a cab driver. He feels he receives little respect at home, and definitely doesn’t get it from the drunks who throw up in his cab on a regular basis. He is a man in the grip of a classic mid-life crisis.
The promise of excitement and money arrives in the unlikely form of Col (Ian Hart), a friend just released from prison for nefarious activities of the thieving kind. Lubricated by a few whiskeys, he lays out his frustrations with life. Col returns the favour by inviting him to a friendly card game. Here he meets ‘The Horse’ – a local gangster, played with sinister bonhomie by Colm Meaney. Horse offers McKee a ‘job’ as an on-call driver, something he initially rejects but then quickly accepts after a particularly depressing incident with a fare the following night. It is a decision that eventually brings us full circle to the chase that opened the episode.
This is a classic noir set up. An ordinary, slightly venal character pulled into a web of intrigue and danger by his own flaws – but the generic elements of the story do not make it any less enjoyable, and the Manchester locations are a stark contrast to the neon drenched L.A. of films like Collateral and Drive. As efficiently directed and written as it is (with a pleasing line of dark humour), the real draw of this establishing episode is Morrissey, who manages to make an unsympathetic and rather dull character into someone interesting and engaging.
This was a very promising opening episode, suggesting The Driver could join the BBC’s brilliant period gangster saga Peaky Blinders as the spearhead of a new wave of adult-oriented TV thrillers on British television.
Director: Jamie Payne
Writers: Danny Brocklehurst
Cast: David Morrissey, Claudie Blakley, Sacha Parkinson, Ian Hart, Colm Meaney
Review by Stuart Barr