This review contains spoilers.
ITV crime drama has gone back to the seaside with The Level, a new six-part thriller set against the lurid hen dos and moody seascapes of Brighton.
Karla Crome (Misfits, Under The Dome) plays Nancy Devlin, a high-achieving young detective sergeant whose probity is compromised by her emotional ties to shady businessman Frank Le Saux (Life On Mars’ Philip Glenister). The father of her school friend Hayley (Da Vinci’s Demons’ Laura Haddock), Frank’s family offered young Nancy a refuge from her troubled home life. To repay that debt, she’s been keeping his name out of police investigations into his haulage firm’s drug-smuggling.
A murder investigation brings Nancy back to face demons old and new in her home town of Brighton. By the end of the first episode, we’re left with a whodunit anchored in an emotional story about friendship and tricky fathers.
Episode one is very competently done and the series promises a decent go-around for UK thriller fans. A roll-call of potential suspects is spun through in the final moments. Was Frank’s murderer his wife? His mistress? His money man? Even Nancy’s ex-copper dad makes an appearance, hinting that the two men might have more history than first assumed.
In Nancy, writers Gaby Chiappe and Alexander Perrin have created a character it’s easy to side with despite her abuse of power (and the fact she spends much of episode one visibly deteriorating due to the infected bullet wound she’s concealing). She’s no regular dirty cop. Her cover-up seems motivated by affection and loyalty rather than backhanders or self-promotion. Opening on her receiving an award for outstanding bravery in the line of duty may be a little on the nose in terms of establishing character, but it gets the job done and fast.
Off-duty, Nancy comes to life in an intimate scene reconnecting with estranged friend Hayley over the contents of her guest house minibar. That’s where we see her enjoyably mordant sense of humour, wryly explaining that she’s glad of the companionship seeing as the rest of the women in the hotel are inflatable, or noting that the Nuts magazine pin-ups on display at her police training centre were put there “to encourage the young female recruits”.
Crome is a solid choice for lead and her performance here is unshowy and strong. A silent scene in which Nancy revisits her unchanged teenage bedroom is subtle but Crome does just enough to make the emotional significance of the moment felt.
The only shame of the casting so far is the premature departure of Philip Glenister as Frank, whose shock early murder provides our mystery. Frank proves to be enough of a mystery before his death, with a secret son and dodgy dealings concealed in his company books.
Set in a recognisable world with characters grounded by emotional relationships, The Level feels like a safe enough pair of hands. There’s the odd glint of other recent crime dramas in its premise, from Broadchurch’s coastal setting to Top Of The Lake’s capable, young protagonist, but it’s combined in such a way that it doesn’t feel repetitive, just part of the genre. Episode one had shocks (that cliff-shunt was impressively done), real-feeling characters and intrigue. Just the thing for an autumn evening.