He Kills Coppers - Review
Review by Jack Foley
FIRST things first. He Kills Coppers is one of the finest dramas to be screened on ITV for some time.
Based on the Braybrook Street murders of 1966 and the hunt for real life cop killer Harry Roberts (who is still serving a life sentence), the three-part series followed the fortunes of two ambitious policemen, a tart with a heart and a gutter press journalist after a big scoop.
Kicking off as Britain prepares to watch the 1966 World Cup Final between England and Germany, the first hour is mainly devoted to setting up the characters.
The principal guide [and narrator] is Rafe Spall’s Frank Taylor, an ambitious – even corrupt – police officer fresh from advanced training who is just weeks from his dream job with the Flying Squad.
When he develops an obsession for a sexy clip joint hostess named Jeannie (Kelly Reilly), he’s upset when his by-the-book partner Jon Young (Liam Garrigan) starts dating her and subsequently conspires to put an end to their relationship and have Jon transferred.
It’s a move that has fatal consequences, as Jon is one of the cops who stops Billy Porter (Mel Raido) in Braybook Street and is gunned down in cold blood.
Porter, meanwhile, goes on the run, putting his ex-Army training to good use to evade capture by hiding out in Epping Forest.
The final piece of the puzzle is occupied by desperate journalist Tony Meehan (Steven Robertson), an ambitious go-getter who happens to be in the right place at the right time following the murders, and who devotes his ensuing career to covering the story of the hunt for Porter, even befriending his mum (Maureen Lipman) to get the inside scoop.
Episode two found the search intensifying and when the series really kicked into gear, as the repercussions of everyone’s actions began to hit home.
Spall, in particular, shines as the self-loathing Taylor, whose desperation to find Porter and make some kind of amends comes before everything, including his ensuing relationship and marriage to Jeannie. As the years pass, his frustrations become more pronounced as the case becomes obsessive and takes over his life.
Robertson, too, excels, his ruthless journalist a genuinely loathsome creation who wreaks of as much desperation as Taylor. His ruthless manipulation of just about everyone he comes into contact with is a fine piece of acting, even though you’ll probably want to throw something at the screen each time he appears!
In truth, however, there’s not really a bad performance, with Lipman superb as Porter’s conflicted mum, and Reilly underlining her reputation as one of Britain’s best female actresses as Jeannie. Mel Raido doesn’t overplay his unhinged psychopath, Porter, and also creates an imposing character.
Director Adrian Shergold successfully recreates the look and feel of 1960s England in the early episodes without resorting to anything too obvious or cliched, and he’s also content to sit back and let his actors take centre stage rather than relying on any over elaborate set pieces.
The result is a fiercely intelligent piece of drama – based on Jake Arnott’s novel – that keeps you gripped for the duration of its three episodes. If the ending has been changed slightly from the novel (which may come as a disappointment to some of Arnott’s fans), it still packs a pretty hefty emotional punch and ensures that you’ll remember it long afterwards.
He Kills Coppers is, quite simply, an example of British TV at its best, which deserves to sit alongside the likes of Cracker and Between The Line as an enduring and much re-visited classic.