I’m quite selective with ITV crime dramas. If there are three episodes or less I tend not to bother and the longer series have to have something which really grabs me right from the start. There were two things which drew me to watch this first episode of this six parter. The series is written by Gaby Chiappe who has considerable writing credits to her name including the screenplay for the 2016 Gemma Arterton starring film “Their Finest” but also for episodes of “Eastenders”, “Vera”, “Shetland”, “The Paradise” and “Lark Rise To Candleford” amongst others together with Alexander Perrin, who previously worked with Chiappe on “Shetland”). It is directed by Andy Goddard. The two things which got me watching were the casting and the location.
Rob James-Collier and Lindsey Coulson
The biggest draw for the Downton-starved ITV audience would likely be Rob James-Collier who has hung up Thomas’ butler costume for good and here plays organised crime officer Kevin O’Dowd. It’s always good to see him on the screen and Eastenders viewers would have appreciated the appearance of Lindsey Coulson (Carol Jackson) now sporting dark hair and in charge of the murder investigation which is central to the plot. Also in the cast were such very watchable performers as Amanda Burton (probably best known for Silent Witness), Noel Clarke (best known for Dr Who) and a turn from Philip Glenister which was so short that it suggests that a considerable amount of this tale will be back story.
Downton meets Eastenders
The central character, however, was DS Nancy Devlin. This is a female led crime drama and ITV have come up with the goods so many times here with these –from the what seemed like pioneering at the time “The Gentle Touch” to “Prime Suspect” to modern day “Vera” and “Scott and Bailey”. Devlin is played by Karla Crome who I did not think I was familiar with but, apart from E4’s “Misfits” which I did not watch, I found I knew her, but did not recognise her from her turn as Science teacher Rebecca Pine in Season 2 of the American TV adaptation of Steven King’s “Under The Dome”. Let’s hope that “The Level” does not deteriorate into unintelligible nonsense which eventually stopped me watching that series!
From Under The Dome To The Level – Karla Crome
At the start we see DS Devlin being presented with a bravery award after saving Rob James Collier’s life. He has his leg in a cast and it’s not long before that leg becomes an amusing obstacle in them getting it together back at her place. The whole thing is interrupted by a phone call and we realise how important it is because there’s not many that would up and leave Rob James Collier in the early throes of passion and it’s not long before we discover that DS Devlin is up to her neck in something unpalatable. A meeting sees her implicated in a murder investigation which she is then seconded to help solve. I can’t help but feel that the misery is going to be piled upon her character as the team begin to move in to discover her involvement. We’ve not finished with Rob’s character as he was there, minus plaster cast and crutches (how long had she been away I thought it was only a couple of days?) also seconded to the case as it looks like the murder could have links to organised crime, although no-one yet knows how close those links to that department actually are.
I said there were two reasons I chose this. The second – the Brighton location. I like to see my old stomping ground on television. There was a time when it was always depicted as rather grimy and seedy (if they get round to filming Peter James’ books- which I do not really want them to do- then we will get that Brighton back) but beginning with the 2015 BBC show “Cuffs” (cancelled after one series but which I really liked) we have got a glossy, shiny Brighton, which looked good and this was certainly the case with “The Level”. What we also had here in this first episode was a disturbingly empty Brighton – apart from the fleeting appearance of passing hen and stag night groups there was no-one around. There were a couple of nicely framed shots of sea-front shelters, which looked impressive and which formed meeting places between Devlin and her old school friend Hayley and views out to sea and of the Brighton Wheel (which has materialised since I moved away) but there was no-one around. It wasn’t the busy- at-any- time- of the- day –or- night Brighton I remembered but it certainly looked lovely.
The plot of the first episode pulled me in enough to make me want to watch the next episodes and with another five to go there is surely going to be plenty of intrigue and plot twists and I think poor old DS Nancy Devlin is going to continue having a bad time. She is already nursing a secret gunshot wound. (Why do I always wince when anyone pulls back a dressing to reveal a wound on TV yet can be unmoved by far more horrible sights?). This Friday night show might make up for the fact that after three episodes the much anticipated 6th season of “American Horror Story” over on Fox an hour later might disappointingly just be going nowhere…………….
The Level began on Friday 30th September at 9.00pm. The first episode is available on ITV catch-up services