Saturday 17 March 2018

TV guide: Off the cuff

BBC1's new eight-part drama is a combination of police procedural and character-driven personal drama

Cuffs star Amanda Abbington
Cuffs star Amanda Abbington

Emily Hourican

Brighton is the setting for BBC1's new ensemble police series, Cuffs; the channel's first drama commission in the 8pm slot in eight years. The vibrant, alternative seaside town is the perfect backdrop to the kind of contemporary, pacy action the show is promising, where the challenges of frontline policing - everything from nudists fighting on the beach, to an elderly farmer's wife with a gun - are matched with the personal challenges faced by the officers. As such, character is given centre-stage here as much as plot, on the understanding that one without the other provides fairly sterile fodder to audiences increasingly convinced that psychology is as important as procedure.

The series is written by Julie Gearey, who wrote Prisoners' Wives, with individual contributions from a number of talented young writers, including Dublin writers Nancy Harris and Joe Barton, and set around a police response team, played by Ashley Walters (once upon a time of So Solid Crew, more recently Top Boy), Peter Sullivan, Amanda Abbington, Shaun Dooley, Paul Ready, Eleanor Matsuura, Alex Carter and Jacob Ifan.

The aim is authenticity - to get as close to the actual working lives of real people as possible, including the mundanity, the negative reactions of public to police, and the hours of boredom interspersed with moments of high-octane, almost surreal drama - and in a way, the show feels influenced by reality TV shows like Cops, as much as it does by more established, traditionally scripted police shows, and is a good example of the way in which reality TV - for all its frequent awfulness - has broken down some of the more staid conventions of scripted drama. That said, there are plenty of car chases, fights and stunts to keep things interesting.

As Amanda Abbington (above), who plays the diligent, organised DS Jo Moffat, says: "I liked that it was character-driven, and I liked that it felt a bit different from the normal police shows that you see. All the characters are flawed and I think that's far more interesting to play." Her own character is trying not to allow the toxic fallout of her lonely, unsatisfactory private life seep into her professional duties; hard enough when the loneliness and dissatisfaction are extreme, and the professional duties involve charged encounters with hostile, often dangerous, strangers.

Of the background to the show, Julie Geary says: "I researched the series by talking to serving officers, and we also did ride-alongs with them, took them to the pub, got them drunk, got them to tell all their best stories and favourite stories. It took a couple of years research overall."

Cuffs is filmed by Rasmus Arrildt, who shot The Killing in Denmark and is known for his subtle, sparing use of light - meaning we can expect the kind of sombre, ambient lighting that seems increasingly a go-to for contemporary police drama.

For director Anthony Philipson, the appeal was the determination to be different. "There's a well-trodden path with cop shows in Britain. It was time for it to be refreshed and shaken up a bit. Cuffs has a beautiful balance of comedy and drama. It has a wonderful cast. The characters that Julie has brought to life inhabit this world perfectly. It feels very fresh and new and honest." That said, "the biggest challenge on this is pulling off the scale of it. There's a lot happening, and a lot of characters, and making sure that you connect with them quickly and easily, and every time you go to them you know exactly who they are." This excess of characters is something that Channel4's recent reality series Hunted suffered from; let's hope it's something a drama can overcome.

'Cuffs' begins on Wednesday October 28 at 8pm on BBC1

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