Inspector George Gently: Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby shine as the period crime drama returns
You wait for the return of one fictional DCI and then two come along at once. That is because, following the return of DCI Banks on Monday, George Gently is also back on our screens. Despite being set in the 1960s, George Gently definitely isn’t a cosy nostalgic piece in the vein of Heartbeat. Instead, the show demonstrates the grim reality of the decade and this episode specifically focuses on the changing views the public had regarding the police force. Indeed, the opening scenes document a protest between residents who are keen not to see their local slums torn down and the police officers who are willing to use violence in order to stop them. This protest later leads to a police officer getting seriously injured and results in the death of another young man.
As fans of the show will remember, last series saw an epic shoutout which left both Gently and Bacchus with serious injuries. Six months on from these events, Gently is raring to get back to work and has fully recuperated from the event. But Bacchus is less willing to move on and has written to Gently to inform him of his impending resignation from the police force. As he’s someone who’d doesn’t deal with change well, Gently visits Bacchus at the police convalescing home where he’s been staying. Though Bacchus appears to be back to his old self, as he’s even copping off with one of the nurses at the home, he is still nursing psychological scars from the events at the cathedral. Despite Bacchus wanting to end his police career once and for all, Gently informs him that he has to work a months’ notice before he can quit. But, throughout their time together in this episode, Bacchus appears withdrawn and sceptical of everything that Gently says.
The case that Bacchus and Gently are asked to investigate relates to the aforementioned protests and subsequent arrests made by the Newcastle police. The morning after the arrests, newly qualified WPC Rachel Coles is checking the cells when she discovers that one of the arrested men has died overnight. Though several of the officers recognised the man, none of them actually knew his name. Eventually, Gently and Bacchus are able to identify the dead man thanks to an overdue library book. They then trace the family of the late Simon Thomas and discover that he came from quite an affluent background. His mother reveals that she began to despair after he became addicted to drugs and eventually washed her hands of him completely. Despite feeling that her son escaped into nothingness, Simons’s mother is still horrified to learn that he died in police custody and demands to know what happened to him.
The officers reveal that when Simon first came into custody he was screaming his head off and they found they just couldn’t calm him down. Gently finds himself slightly lost as to why the police didn’t try to book him in when he’d calmed down and why nobody checked on him during the night. Meanwhile, the local police start to resent Bacchus and Gently’s questioning and wonder why they are spending so much time investigating the death of a worthless junkie especially considering one of their own is fighting for his life in hospital. It soon transpires that the police believed that Simon could’ve caused PC Ashton’s injuries and that the victim’s death may have been the result of a revenge attack. The fact that one of their own died in police custody just fuels the hatred of the people of the local community who no longer have any trust in the police. Gently and Bacchus quickly discover that simon was not well-liked by his neighbours who saw him as nothing more than a scrounger. In fact Simon’s only friend was young Robbie who he shared his love of poetry with. But, as they investigation goes on, Gently has to contend with both an angry community and a group of uncooperative police officers.
The first thing to say about the return of George Gently is that once again, the episode was far too long. I feel that most crime dramas struggle to justify single ninety minute episodes, Vera springs to mind as one example, and I feel that this episode of George Gently could easily have trimmed off fifteen minutes of its running time. That being said, I still enjoyed quite a lot of this episode, primarily because of the storyline involving Bacchus’ need to quit the force. The change in the nature of Gently and Bacchus’ relationship is an interesting avenue to take the characters down and I feel that Timothy Prager exploits this new dynamic throughout the episode. Director Nicholas Renton is keen to point out that this is a new, edgier Bacchus who really doesn’t want to be a police officer any more. In fact every time the camera pans to Bacchus we are made aware that he really has no respect for Gently any more and that this latest case just illustrates the hypocritical nature of the police force. In addition I enjoyed the friendship that developed between Bacchus and WPC Coles as he became fond of her youthful enthusiasm for the job. To me the story was dragged down by the central murder mystery, which really didn’t need to take up as much time as it did. I’d personally figured out who’d done it about thirty minutes before the final credits and so was twiddling my thumbs waiting for the answer to be revealed. However, I did like the fact that the story as a whole was a backdrop to the unrest in the area and the changing face of Britain, a theme that I hope will continue throughout the course of the series.
One constant that George Gently always has going for it is the central performance from Martin Shaw, who makes the titular DCI a domineering presence. Though I do feel Shaw overdoes Gently’s gruff tones occasionally, he always lights up the screen and makes you realise why the Inspector is respected by most of those around him. However, I personally felt that this episode belonged to Lee Ingleby, whose performance as Bacchus was magnifying from beginning to end. Ingleby portrayed his character’s new attitude with ease and I felt he excelled during the scenes in which Bacchus berated Gently for his lack of feeling. In addition, this episode benefited from a superior supporting cast, most notably Hebburn’s Lisa McGrillis, who proved that she could turn her hand to drama as easy as she could comedy. Also worth a mention is the brilliant Steve Evets, who once again portrayed a sinister character in local protester Ronny Hanratty.
Ultimately I do find George Gently a programme whose episodes are always far too long to sustain its smaller stories. Though there was much to like in this episode, most notably Ingleby’s performance, I just felt the plot was stretched to fit the run time. I do feel it’s a shame because if Gently was served up in hour-long instalments I think it would be a lot more exciting. But, as it is, I have to say I was incredibly bored during the last fifteen minutes.
What did you think to the return of George Gently? Do you agree its too long?
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