The Level – Acorn/RLJE DVD Review

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Detective Sergeant Nancy Devlin (Karla Crome) is a seemingly model police officer, but she has a dark secret.  Since her childhood, Frank Le Saux (Philip Glenister) has exerted a considerable influence over her.  When she was younger he was the father-figure she’d always wished for, so when Nancy became a police officer she found it very easy to turn a blind eye to his criminal activities (which include drug trafficking).

Out of the blue Le Saux calls her, but he’s shot dead before he can explain to her why he needed help.  Nancy catches a stray bullet, although she manages to flee the scene.  Now her problems multiply – due to her familiarity with both Le Saux and his daughter Hayley (Laura Haddock) she’s seconded to return home to Brighton in order to assist the investigation. Her fellow officers are keen to question the mysterious person present when Le Saux was shot, not realising that it was Nancy.  She also finds herself targeted by the killer and when vital evidence goes missing it seems obvious that someone inside the Brighton force is working against her ……

One of the problems with a serial (which has a finite duration) as opposed to a series (which could run for ever) is that you have to hit the ground running. So within the first few minutes of The Level we’re introduced to Nancy, told she’s a highly respected officer, meet her mother (whom she dotes on, but is far from well) and are told that she’s estranged from her father. Such an information overload is a little difficult to process all at once, which is possibly one of the reasons why The Level doesn’t really bed down until the second or third episode.

By her nature, Nancy is an isolated figure. And sending her down to Brighton to work with an unfamiliar team of officers only increases her sense of disconnect. Of course, the fact that she’s the sought-after key witness in Le Saux’s murder investigation probably doesn’t help to engender her with a sense of team spirit ….

It’s fair to say that Karla Croome struggles to begin with. When the various revelations start flying around, from her facial expression you might be forgiven for thinking she was only suffering a mild inconvenience, like say a parking ticket. Even the fact that Nancy was shot doesn’t seem to have taken the wind out of her sails, at least not until the end of the first episode when she collapses on Brighton sea-front, in front of a horrified Hayley. A slightly contrived cliffhanger methinks.

But as the various threads of the plot become more tangled and new characters are introduced, the serial begins to pick up momentum. Hand on heart, there’s nothing terribly original here – but once the twists and turns start, they keep on coming.  Nancy’s father Gil (Gary Lewis) is a retired officer who seems to have some sort of connection to the murder. Is Gunner (Noel Clarke) the officer impeding the investigation?  There are several instances where it seems obvious this is so, but what about Kevin O’Dowd (Rob James-Collier)?

O’Dowd, a colleague of Nancy’s from London, is sent down to Brighton to work with her. They almost slept with each other at the start of episode one and although there’s a little tension between them, it does seem like he’s one of the few people she can trust. So the revelation midway through the six episodes that he may have something to hide is predictable, but still satisfying.

It takes nerve to employ an actor as good as Phillip Glenister and then kill him off within the first few minutes. But whilst Frank Le Saux’s screentime is very limited, his character and the way he interacted with his friends and family is firmly imbedded throughout the six episodes.

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Amanda Burton gives a nicely understated performance as Cherie, his widow. Equally good is Laura Haddock as their daughter Hayley. As a childhood friend of Nancy, she’s able to be a confidante to both sides. If Cherie guessed that Frank was more than just a simple businessman she never probed too deeply. Hayley, on the other hand, seems to have been totally ignorant about his extra-curricular activities and is shocked when Nancy tells her that her father was a drug dealer.

This raises something of a niggling point – Nancy tells Hayley that every time Frank’s name came up officially she was able to nullify the enquires. How exactly would this be possible? If there was an official investigation it seems unlikely that a fairly lowly-ranked officer could pervert the course of justice all by herself. It’s a nice idea – Nancy was so indebted to the kindness shown by Frank to her as a child (as opposed to her father’s indifference and violence) that she looked the other way whenever he was in the frame – but it just doesn’t sit right.

Of course, the revelation that Frank really was Nancy’s father shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Or if it does, you clearly haven’t been watching enough crime fiction of this type.

The Level continues to twist and turn to a suitablly dramatic climax. Although it’s not reinventing the wheel, it’s still a tightly-scripted, well-shot production with strong performances in all the key roles. The location filming in Brighton helps to add a little sheen to the production, as do several impressive stunts, and there’s always enough going on to ensure that the pace never flags.

The DVD includes several special features. On Set & Behind The Scenes (29″49′) is a fairly comprehensive making-of, with cast and crew interviews. Several more shorter featurettes have been fashioned from addtional interviews shot at the same time – From Script to Screen (7″53′) and The Popularity of Crime Drama (5″35′). The last one sounded interesting, but alas it’s not terribly enlightening. Karla Crome believes that crime drama is popular because it deals with death, which rather ignores all the crime drama that isn’t about death of course. Some of the comments from the other contributors are a little more insightful though.

The Level is released by Acorn/RLJE on the 14th of November 2016.  RRP £24.99.

The Level

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