As a police officer, Chris Carson battles crime – along with his internal demons – as he patrols the gritty streets of Liverpool. Chris cares about the victims and many times those victims include young people who grew up on the streets and break the law in order to survive. As Chris, Martin Freeman is remarkable, turning in a performance that lays bare the emotional toll policing exacts even from the best of people.
Chris is forced back on patrol after being demoted on trumped up charges during a corruption investigation. Another officer demoted, rightly so, during the probe, Raymond Mullen (Warren Brown), is out for revenge and hatches a plan to permanently have Chris booted from the force. Mullen also is in love with Chris’ wife, Kate (MyAnna Buring), and keeps pursuing her, even though she broke off their affair. Chris and Kate are trying to make their marriage work, not only for their young daughter, but because they do truly love each other.
Chris’s mother, June (Rita Tushingham), is dying of cancer and living out her last days in an expensive care home. The bills are piling up and Chris makes the fateful decision to take money from a childhood friend, Carl Sweeney (Ian Hart), a drug dealer. That one time favor, however, turns into a long term commitment, putting pressure on Chris to stay one step ahead of Mullen and others who want to force him out.
When a shipment of heroin disappears, Chris learns it’s been taken by one of the street kids he looks after, Casey (an outstanding performance by Emily Fairn), who hopes that selling the drugs on her own will finally buy her the freedom she desperately wants. Marco (Josh Finan), is, like Casey, an addict, but not equipped with her survival instincts. When pressured, he’s only too quick to take the money and rat out his friend. Chris’ mission is to keep Casey and Marco alive, find and return the heroin, and manage to stay on the force and out of prison. It’s a tall order.
Chris prefers to work alone, but that arrangement changes when he’s ordered to supervise a probationary police officer, Rachel Hargreaves (Adelayo Adedayo). New to the job, Rachel wants to handle everything by the book and is alarmed by Chris’ way of doing business. When Mullen approaches her to spy on Chris, saying he’s “bent”, she agrees, only to regret that decision when she begins to understand and admire Chris. Although she’s a cop, Rachel allows her boyfriend, Steve (Philip Barantini), to abuse her. Working with Chris finally gives her the courage she needs to protect herself.
The Responder is created and written by Tony Schumacher, a former Merseyside police officer. In interviews, Schumacher talked about how his time on the force inspired the series. Freeman is a brilliant choice to channel Schumacher’s experiences as a cop. During sessions with a therapist, the camera zooms in on Freeman’s face where he conveys his struggles and pain with the slightest expression – a grimace, a stare, a bowed head. But his inability to open up to the therapist – a young, well-meaning woman, clearly in over her head – dooms the exercise. When he storms out, she holds back a sob and says, “I hate this job.”
Chris’ dark mood is accentuated by the way the series is filmed. Assigned to the night shift, Chris is like a mole, adjusting his vision to spot trouble before a crime occurs. Even when the sun rises, Chris’ world remains in shadows. Cinematography elevates the tension.
The Responder is a terrific police procedural with a pulse-pounding plot, fascinating characters, and a “look” that makes a statement and sets it apart. Don’t miss this one.
The Responder is available to stream on BritBox.
Photo Credit: Rekha Garton / © 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions