The season of autumn crime dramas is upon us, and Line Of Duty star Adrian Dunbar is leading the charge in ITV’s captivating new detective drama Ridley.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for the first episode of ITV’s Ridley.
Autumn is just around the corner, which means that soon enough, we’ll be tucked up on the sofa watching a stream of new crime dramas. For as much as we’ve loved the novelty of having a proper summer this year, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t excited for all the brilliant detective shows heading our way as the nights draw in, from Aidan Turner’s new psychological thriller The Suspect to the second series of Holliday Grainger’s The Capture.
Tonight, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year finally lands on our screens. Best known for playing as AC-12 chief Superintendent Ted Hastings in Line of Duty, beloved Northern Irish actor Adrian Dunbar is now taking the lead in ITV’s new four-part drama Ridley. But while the actor is stepping back into another compelling policing role, his new drama is shaking up the genre in all the best ways.
Inspired by real life retired detectives rejoining police forces in a consultancy role given increasingly over-stretched resources, the series opener introduces us to Detective Inspector Alex Ridley (Dunbar), who has just retired from the police after years of dedicated service. Now living an isolated life in the north of England, Ridley has suddenly transitioned from the top end of policing to falling asleep on the sofa fully-clothed, his belongings still unpacked in taped boxes.
When Ridley’s old colleague Jean Dixon pays a visit, we soon find out that Ridley has in fact been “cut adrift” from the force in his prime after the tragic death of his wife and daughter in a house fire. Shouldering both the weight of his grief and the loss of his livelihood, Ridley has suffered a breakdown; but when Dixon informs him about the homicide of a local sheep farmer, Jesse Halpin, it’s clear that he has unfinished business to attend to. The tip-off comes with a warning, though. “You can’t solve them all Ridley,” says Dixon. “It doesn’t pay to dwell in the past”.
It’s too late for that, though. Before long, Ridley’s former protégée and replacement DI Carol Farman (Bronagh Waugh), comes calling after discovering that fourteen years ago, Ridley had actually questioned Halpin in connection with the abduction of a local girl, Zoe Lindsey. DCI Paul Goodwin (Terence Maynard) tells Farman that while Ridley believed that the investigation into her disappearance was flawed, he doesn’t want Ridley “stirring things up” on this new case. Still, the new DI knows that Ridley will be able to offer a unique insight into the murder. In any case, Ridley has already begun to comb back through his files of the Lindsey investigation, because there’s no really stopping a good detective when they catch wind of something suspicious.
After having dinner together, Ridley and Farman team up to try and find out who really took down Halpin. No-one in the village has a good word to say about the surly sheep farmer, who by all accounts was an oppressive man who liked “his women to stay at home”. In fact, a young man by the name of Steve Parry, who is dating Halpin’s daughter Catherine, tells the police that he’s not sorry he’s dead – he worked Catherine “like a skivvy” and injured his dog with a vicious trap laid in his woodland.
Catherine, for her part, definitely seems scared. She tells Farman that her father was arguing with her mother Moll the night of his murder. That’s not the only interesting news to come to light: Ridley, under his own steam, has paid a visit to an inmate in prison by the name of Michael Flannery. The detective wants to know if Flannery has ever come across Daniel Preston on his wing, the man who was convicted of Zoe Lindsey’s abduction and has also been charged in the past with the possession of child pornography. Ridley doesn’t believe Preston was guilty, you see, and Preston has always maintained his innocence. Flannery tells Ridley that Preston was released from prison two weeks ago, just ten days before Halpin was murdered. Was he responsible for his murder?
Farman and Ridley then track down Preston to where he’s working a new job at a packing warehouse. When shown a photograph of Halpin’s face, he agrees that he recognises the farmer from a caravan park where he used to work all those years ago – the same caravan park where little Zoe Lindsey was abducted. Farman reckons that if Halpin and Preston were acquainted, then Halpin’s death could be connected to Lindsey’s disappearance. She then tells DCI Goodwin that she wants Ridley’s involvement on the case, who isn’t happy about the prospect of his old colleague returning, but reluctantly gets Ridley cleared as investigative support. Ridley returns to the police station, and even though he’s trying to act casual, he’s clearly psyched about getting his teeth into a complex murder case again.
Once the investigation into Lindsey’s disappearance is officially reopened, things start to move quickly. Moll Halpin says she knows nothing about her husband’s temporary stint at the caravan park all those years ago, but Ridley things she’s lying. He suggests they return to the original crime scene to look for missed clues; and sure enough, when they speak to Adam Moreland, the son of the park’s manager who was with Zoe Lindsey the day she disappeared, he tells them that he saw her speaking to a man in a white van. Ridley surmises that the investigating team assumed it was Preston driving the van, but Adam says he didn’t see the man’s face. Ridley also remembers that back in the day, Halpin owned a white minivan.
Back at the Halpin’s farm, tenant Lorna Spalden threatens Farman with a shotgun. When they take her into custody, she confesses that she helped Halpin bury the body of a little girl in the woods all those years ago. She leads the police to the spot where they did the deed, and Ridley heads back to the caravan park to inform Zoe Lindsey’s mother Penny that they’ve recovered the remains of a child on Halpin’s land. She tells Ridley that says she’s not sure she’s ready to provide a DNA sample so the police can determine whether it matches the remains, because it would mean facing the horrific truth that her daughter is dead.
The usually gruff Ridley then imparts some unexpectedly moving words about grief.
“I lost my wife and daughter,” he says sadly. “They died in a terrible house fire and I would do anything, anything to get some answers…to get some closure, to move on.”
“Anything would be better than this, Penny, wouldn’t it? Living in some kind of purgatory.”
While she’s pondering his words, Ridley asks Lindsey how she knew that Preston had images of child pornography on his computer. She tells him that a detective had told her so. Putting two and two together, Ridley meets Jean Dixon and confronts her about negligence on the Lindsey investigation when they worked together; both on account of failing to conduct a proper search of Halpin’s land, and manipulating testimony to suggest that it was Daniel Preston who abducted Zoe Lindsey. Dixon tells Ridley to let it go, for “old times sake”. Her refuses, because he’s a principled detective, and tells her that there’ll be an enquiry. Dixon then bitterly tells Ridley that he was “never a team player” and that was his biggest problem.
There’s even more drama ahead when the pathologist informs Ridley and Farman that the remains of the child they discovered on Halpin’s land aren’t those of Zoe Lindsey. Cue a return to the drawing board for the crime-solving duo that shores up further crimes and one shocking, heartbreaking secret. Without giving away the final plot twist, it’s down to Ridley’s razor-sharp attention to detail and capacity to empathise with people who have suffered great pain that eventually unlocks the case.
Quite simply, Ridley is one of the finest detective shows I’ve seen in recent years. With its slow, brooding pace, morally grey characters and thought-provoking crime stories, it definitely belongs to the new generation of original police dramas proving that there are many complex situations in life that blur the lines between right and wrong. In the middle of it all is Dunbar, brilliant as ever, showing his true range as he strides over the misty moors in colourful Aran knits and breaks into song at the local jazz bar. You may even shed a tear or two.
The first episode of Ridley airs Sunday 28 August at 8pm on ITV. The three remaining two-hour episodes will air every Sunday thereafter.
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