BritBox’s new cop drama makes absolutely no attempt to glamorize police work. The Responder centers on the seedy side of Liverpool after dark via the nocturnal shifts of a first responder beat bobby answering late-night emergency calls. This is certainly not the sort of job young rookie police recruits ever dream of. Instead, it’s a miserable picture of modern day Britain; inadequate social care, broken, overloaded and underfunded systems, those living on the edge of society and a drug culture that’s out of control. Be warned, dear viewer: The Responder is very sweary, drug-centered, grim, raw and totally depressing. But while it shows Merseyside at its very worst, this story of a demoralized police officer on the edge of despair is, in many ways, just too painfully realistic not to watch.
The series stars Martin Freeman speaking Scouse (he does a pretty good job with the accent) and making those quirky facial expressions of perplexed bemusement we’re all so familiar with from The Office. It also stars my favourite native Liverpudian Ian Hart, who I interviewed for The Times Ed several years ago (see below for my little anecdotal story about him). Ian is brilliant, as always, in the role of dodgy drug-dealer Carl Sweeney, although the less said about his dreadful wig the better.
The Responder was inspired by the experiences of screenwriter Tony Schumacher, who once worked as a first response policeman himself. Freeman plays PC Chris Carson, a hardworking copper who’s financially struggling on basic wages to support his family and pay for his dying mum’s care home. Each shift finds him constantly wrestling to do his job, stay on the right side of the law and endure the torrents of abuse from those he’s trying to help. As he tells his therapist, “Every night, there’s spit on my face and blood on my boots and it never stops.” On top of all this, he’s also dealing with a troubled homelife, the pressure of police politics, fractured relations with his fellow officers, and a moral dilemma that could destroy his life forever.
No wonder the poor bloke’s on the verge of a mental breakdown.
But despite the darkness (both literal and figurative), The Responder is compelling viewing; a bit like a car accident at the side of the road - tragic, chaotic, devastating and messy. But no matter how hard you try to make yourself look away, it’s impossible not to watch.
The Responder is streaming now on BritBox.
My funny story about interviewing
Ian was working in LA at the time, so we had to do the interview by phone. (Yes, I did try to get an all-expenses-paid trip to California, but my editor was having none of it). Ian was playing the role of an American for a new TV series, and I phoned him during a break from filming. At first, I was worried that I'd got hold of the wrong "Ian Hart", as he was speaking with a strong American accent. But as the conversation went on, and he started to reminisce about his childhood in Liverpool, his accent slowly changed into broad Scouse.
I knew he was the right one then!
He later explained that he had been trying to keep his voice consistent to his role, especially while on set.
At the end of the interview we chatted about one of his most famous roles, as Professor Quirrell in the first Harry Potter movie. He confessed to not enjoying Hollywood at all, and that he really missed England. He also filled me in about the TV show he was then filming, Dirt, with Courteney Cox. "She plays the editor and I play a photographer at a really trashy magazine - a bit like NOW magazine back home," he explained.
I almost blurted out, "Oh, I've written for NOW magazine!" but wisely decided I'd keep that one to myself.
Living and loving life
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