Riveting British Detective Drama 'Criminal Record' Is Weighty, Well-Cast and a Must-Watch
Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo star in this eight-part Apple TV+ series about new light being shone on an old case.
February 07, 2024
It was accurate with side-splitting hilarity in The Thick of It and In the Loop, as packaged with heartache in Benediction and in the world of Doctor Who in-between: Peter Capaldi is one of Scotland's most fascinating actors today. Without a "fuckity bye" uttered, any poetry quoted or a tardis in sight, Criminal Record also uses his can't-look-away presence to excellent effect, casting him as Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Hegarty, one of the eight-part Apple TV+ series' two key detectives. There's an intensity to Capaldi that's long served him well and, as seen since the show first arrived in January, it's unsurprisingly pivotal in the first role in his four-decade career that has him playing a police officer. His stare alone on-screen has been known to make others wither; in Criminal Record, folks on both sides of the law are trying to avoid that glare, except Capaldi's Torchwood co-star Cush Jumbo.
By day, the no-nonsense Hegarty is a force to be reckoned with on the force. By night, he moonlights as a driver, seeing much that lingers in London as he's behind the wheel. In his not-so-distant past is a case that brings Detective Sergeant June Lenker (Jumbo, The Good Fight) into his orbit — a case that she's certain is linked to a distressed emergency call by someone attempting to flee domestic abuse. The mystery woman says that her partner has already committed murder, gotten away with it, sent another man to prison for the crime in the process and now brags about it. Hegarty contends otherwise, vehemently and gruffly. No matter how many times she's warned off, Lenker is determined to discover the truth, find her potential victim, ascertain whether someone innocent is behind bars and learn why every move that she makes to dig deeper comes with professional — and sometimes personal — retaliation.
The events in question saw Errol Mathis (Tom Moutchi, PRU) incarcerated for 24 years for the brutal 2011 killing of his long-term girlfriend Adelaide Burrowes (Ema Cavolli, Doctors), with Hegarty leading the charge in sending him away for murder. Lenker is not the only one asking questions. For over a decade, Errol's mother Doris (Cathy Tyson, Boiling Point) has been protesting his innocence, aided by lawyer Sonya Singh (Aysha Kala, The Doll Factory). Although believing the official story, Adelaide's son Patrick (Rasaq Kukoyi, The Kitchen) — who was just six when his mum died, and in the other room as she was attacked — is understandably struggling to move on. But Errol confessed and isn't keen on dredging up the past. To Lenker, however, little adds up, and it isn't just Hegarty's insistence that she leave the case alone that sparks a myriad of questions.
The elder cop has cronies DS Kim Cardwell (Shaun Dooley, Saltburn) and DS Tony Gilfoyle (Charlie Creed-Miles, Gunfight at Dry River) on his side, willing to do whatever it takes to get Lenker to drop her inquiries. They'd describe themselves as "old-school". To everyone else, their prejudice and bigotry is as apparent as their sense of entitlement. Lenker isn't one to back down, though, from both trying to find the woman on the other end of the 999 call and getting to the bottom of Adelaide's death. Indeed, she's so focused that work is all that she's thinking about even when she's at home with her partner Leo (Stephen Campbell Moore, Masters of the Air) and pre-teen son Jacob (Jordan A Nash, Breeders) — and when her mother Maureen (Zoë Wanamaker, Black Ops), who doesn't trust the law regardless of that her fact that her daughter has a badge, is around.
Two police officers sit at Criminal Record's centre, but creator and writer Paul Rutman (Next of Kin) clearly hasn't crafted an odd-couple cop show. With Shaun James Grant (a TV first-timer) and Jim Loach (The Tower) directing, plus Ameir Brown (Champion), Thomas Eccleshare (Witness Number 3) and Natasha Narayan (Rutman's Next of Kin co-creator) also scripting, this is still largely a two-hander — and saying that it couldn't be better cast is an understatement. Capaldi is already someone who makes every moment that he's on-screen better. So is Jumbo, which makes watching them face off as riveting as television gets. Passive aggression oozes from the frame when Hegarty and Lenker first confront each other. Tension drips throughout the series relentlessly, but with particular vigour whenever its key cops are in close proximity.
Criminal Record doesn't waste time keeping audiences guessing about who's dutifully taking to their role as part of the thin blue line and who's among policing at its most corrupt. Instead, it lets two people that are both meant to be on the upstanding end of the law-and-order divide clash, surveying the damage that ripples not just through the fuzz but also the community. That said, this isn't a simple good-versus-evil scenario between fellow officers. Diving into the complexities is as much the show's remit as unfurling a whodunnit. Accordingly, there's no doubting that Hegarty and Lenker both take their jobs seriously. And, there's zero questioning that each thinks that the choices they're making — and have made — are for the best. There's no seeing past how Hegarty has managed to adapt, either, surviving in his post by saying the right things yet retaining a problematic attitude.
There's also no avoiding the complications that are a daily part of the gig as well, or the systemic barriers, or the way that the force handles both gender and race. As it primarily walks in Lenker's shoes, there's similarly no escaping the microaggressions that come her way constantly. If she pushes a colleague to help, she's going too far. If she complains about a racist remark from Hegarty, she's told that she's looking for issues. As Lenker continues to probe, to refuse to take no for an answer and not accept Hegarty's claim that everything is above board, the senior cop even advises her to check her own unconscious bias. While twists and mysteries are layered into the show's narrative, they regularly come second to Criminal Record's thematic willingness to tear into what policing should be, can be and often is — and what that means for women and people of colour, both in general and when endeavouring to improve the constabulary from within.
Criminal Record isn't just a supremely well-cast procedural that's home to extraordinary performances, then — it's also weighty. And, as this slickly shot series works through its episodes, a matter-of-fact air doesn't only emanate from Capaldi and Jumbo. Rutman and company don't look away from the sincerity of Lenker's wish to truly protect and serve, the desperation to combat law enforcement's most-abhorrent impulses and the bitter disappointment every time that the worst proves true. The series also spies how entrenched the problems that Hegarty and his sidekicks represent are, and how deeply they fester. It does all this while ensuring that viewers can't look away — from its stars, story or heartbreaking, infuriating intricacies.
Check out the trailer for Criminal Record below:
Criminal Record streams via Apple TV+.
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