What’s the mark of a good screen accent? If you stop noticing it’s happening after the first few minutes, the chances are it’s working pretty well.
Martin Freeman seemed to surprise a lot of people when the trailer dropped recently, after unveiling a very believable Scouse inflection – and while looking very different with a standard issue buzzcut, too.
But his performance in the excellent new BBC series is about far more than just an accent, and The Responder is far more than just any old police drama.
Martin’s character Chris is a man on the edge. Things start with him in therapy, unloading about how the stress of his job as a first responder has turned him into a ‘shell’. His marital problems and mental health issues are leaving him overwhelmed, with a week of nights stretching out before him threatening to tip him over the edge.
The construct – a show holding up ‘a mirror up to the emotional extremes of life on the front line of British policing’ – might sound like quite the slog, and the sort of thing you’ve likely seen 1,000 times before. But there’s more laughs in the first episode than plenty of comedies would manage, as well as a welcome aversion to cliche which helps it delicately avoid pitfalls of the genre.
That’s thanks largely to the turns from two newcomers, who deliver career-making performances. Josh Finan steals every scene as loveable vagrant Marco, while Emily Fairn’s debut as junkie Casey is the most striking you’ll see all year. Intense, enigmatic and deeply tragic, it’s remarkable – and incredible to think she was in drama school just a few months before filming.
Adelayo Adedayo is another impressive young star, playing new cop and idealist Rachel. Together the young cast members more than hold their own alongside heavyweights like Martin and Ian Hart, who is in fine form as a terrifying local drug dealer with a curly perm and leverage on Martin’s Chris which unfolds in insidious ways.
The show is written by former first responder Tony Schumacher, who caught the attention of the BBC after landing a spot in a TV writers’ bursary scheme – and judging by the sharpness of his script, it won’t be the last adaptation we see of his work on TV.
The characters are vividly drawn, and as Chris pinballs between them all during a night of strange encounters, every aspect of the drama feels well observed and fully realised.
Martin’s performance is the beating heart bringing it to life, portraying pain and human decency in the face of adversity. The fact the actor can do it all while pulling off one of the hardest accents to get right on screen adds further depth, marking one of the strongest performances of his career.
Safe to say, our first response is overwhelmingly positive. In fact, cop dramas were all this inspired, we’d never watch anything else.
The Responder airs on BBC One on January 24.
Credit: Original article published here.