Criminal Record Review: Is Peter Capaldi Playing a Monster in Apple TV+ Mystery?

Hero or villain? Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo star in an early contender for the year’s top British crime drama.

Criminal Record Cush Jumbo Peter Capaldi
Photo: Apple TV+

This episodes one and two review contains plot details but is largely spoiler-free.

In eight-part crime thriller Criminal Record, Peter Capaldi’s DCI accuses Cush Jumbo’s DS of unconscious bias. Has she – a woman of colour – automatically believed a tip-off about a West African-British prisoner’s wrongful conviction because she’s primed to see racist conspiracy everywhere? Or is Jumbo’s character simply seeing racist conspiracy because she’s looking right at it?

That mystery is at the centre of this new drama from the makers of ITV’s Vera. Two episodes of writer Paul Rutman’s series are out now on Apple TV+, with the rest to follow weekly on Wednesdays until February 21. Has Jumbo’s DS Lenker stumbled on a corrupt ring of racist cops led by Capaldi’s DCI Dan Hegarty, or is she putting two and two together to make five?

Your take on the ‘Is Hegarty a baddie?’ question likely depends on your own unconscious bias about Peter Capaldi (The Devil’s Hour, Doctor Who, The Thick of It), an actor with a great store of menace from which to draw. Put Capaldi in the half-light and give him lines to deliver in a slow, deliberate purr and his characters seem capable of anything.

Ad – content continues below

That’s exactly what director Jim Loach (The Tower, Save Me, Endeavour) does in Criminal Record’s opening scene, which sees Hegarty moonlighting as chauffeur for a loaded couple who are thrilled by his gruesome stories of life on the force. Is Hegarty a white nationalist who takes bungs from the criminal world, or is he true blue and about to throw cuffs on them? You decide.

Criminal Record isn’t based on a true story, but the findings of the 2023 Louise Casey report into institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia in the Metropolitan Police show that it’s no fantasy. If Hegarty is found to have been part of a racist cover-up that coerced a confession from an innocent man, it wouldn’t so much be fiction as fictionalised fact.

Cush Jumbo (Stay Close, The Good Fight, The Good Wife) as DS Lenker thinks that she has the facts, and Hegarty’s measure. His under-his-breath reference to the convicted murderer he put away being a “poor man’s OJ” sets off her inner trip wire, which was stretched taught by a career in the police both as a woman, and a woman of colour. Lenker is shown to have reliable instincts during her investigations, so when this particular instinct about Hegarty is backed up by no-nonsense social worker Sonya Singh (Aysha Kala), it’s game on.

The crime thriller game in Criminal Record is solid. It’s bleak, violent and pacy, and able to conjure peaks of real genre tension alongside the character-based storytelling. In the closing minutes of episode one, Jenker responds to an emergency call that’ll straighten your spine, and there’s a fight in the enclosed space of a lift where you’ll feel every kick.

The real interest here though, is in the drama’s investigation of two differing perspectives: both British police officers, but one white, male and in his sixties; the other dual heritage, female and in her thirties. He’s in power and she’s kicking against the pricks. As she tries to solve the case he wants to be left well alone, how will their contrasting backgrounds shape their approach to the job, and who, ultimately, will prosper? The context of modern policing isn’t ignored either, with a rightfully sceptical eyebrow raised at government promises of “root and branch reform”, and a pragmatic take on the utility of professional standards.

It’s a strong, well-cast premise that was developed for these particular leads (Capaldi is married to exec producer Elaine Collins, who previously brought Vera and Shetland to screen), and with their input. That might explain its sharp portrayal of everyday racism as experienced by a woman of Lenker’s background. She and her white psychiatrist husband (Stephen Campbell-Moore) discuss privilege, and anger, and disagree over why their 12-year-old dual heritage son seems to get more than his share of referee intervention on his football squad.

Ad – content continues below

It all adds up to something that’s well-considered and intellectually provocative as well as being a thrills-and-chases crime mystery. Like The Responder and Blue Lights before it, and streamer-mate Slow Horses this early 2024 entry could well end up being revisited months later come the ‘Best TV of the Year’ lists. Watch the trailer here:

Criminal Record episodes one and two are available to stream now on Apple TV+. New episodes arrive Wednesdays.


4 out of 5