3.5 out of 5 stars

Criminal Record, the latest thriller series from Apple TV+, presents a promising premise and delivers an engaging build-up and compelling character exploration, although inconsistencies prevent it from achieving its full potential.

The plot is simple yet engaging. DI June Lenker (Cush Jumbo) tracks down a mysterious emergency caller, whom she suspects is a victim of domestic violence. This leads her to investigate an old murder case. However, her efforts are hampered by DCI Daniel Hegarty (Peter Capaldi), who seems to know more than he’s letting on about both cases. What follows over the next eight episodes is a tense tug-of-war between the two officers, exploring themes of police corruption, violence, misogyny, and miscarriages of justice.

The case of the mysterious emergency caller sends Lenker down a dark rabbit hole, resurfacing old wounds for both the detectives and their families. Errol Mathis (Tom Moutchi), convicted of murdering his girlfriend, is serving a 24-year prison sentence. However, his mother (Cathy Tyson) firmly believes in his innocence. Lenker’s investigation uncovers surprising connections between her current case and Mathis’s conviction. As she delves deeper into the backgrounds of several police investigators involved, the investigation escalates, posing a growing threat to Lenker and those she cares about. A web of secrets unravels, potentially provoking retaliation from those with something to hide.

At first, the suspenseful murder mystery draws us in with promises of intrigue and answers, and for the most part, the series delivers. Efforts are made to sustain our engagement as the plot unfolds, keeping us on the edge of our seats. However, the series falters at times with inconsistent scenes and underdeveloped supporting characters. Whenever the central plot of tracking down the emergency caller fades and becomes almost forgettable, creator Paul Rutman fills the foreground with personal backstories. These add context to the ongoing themes of racism and injustice, effectively providing a deeper understanding of the societal issues at hand.

Like many other Apple TV+ shows, most of the scenes are well-paced and effectively shot, while others are more deliberate in their pacing. Cinematographers Laurent Barès and Jan Jonaeus capture London at night, bathed in shades of red, highlighting a landscape ripe for crime and hinting that the truth always lies in the shadows. Conversely, police department scenes, especially at night, are cast in cool blue hues, creating a stark contrast between the two worlds.

However, some scenes prioritise character development over plot progression. The show opens with Hegarty posing as a private driver, ferrying a couple through London before the central conflict even begins. His passengers question him about his life as a police officer, and Capaldi masterfully portrays an unreliable character through Hegarty’s stony expression and implication of double lives. While this scene contributes to character development, viewers might initially question its connection to the main plot.

Still, most of the episodes weave us through the narrative’s various threads, while other key scenes presented in the later episodes could have used some revision. However, without the nuanced and dynamic performances of Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo as the tough, head-butting leads, the series might have lacked essential depth. Their adept performances provide us with strong contrasts, thankfully. As in her previous roles, Jumbo maintains June’s unwavering sense of morality and her pursuit of truth over injustice with the same believability she demonstrated in The Beast Must Die (2021). Capaldi’s experience in Doctor Who and The Devil’s Hour (2022) serves him well in portraying Hegarty’s lost moral compass. Most of the time, Capaldi’s deadpan expressions, which reveal little, complement Jumbo’s perseverance and inquisitive nature. However, supporting characters like DS Tony Gilfoyle (Charlie Creed-Miles) and DS Kim Cardwell (Shaun Dooley), though played by capable actors, feel flat and clichéd, lacking any complexity beyond their “dirty cop” stereotypes.

Hegarty appears to be a complex embodiment of how the justice system blurs the lines between right and wrong, exemplified by the immense power police wield over disadvantaged citizens. Beneath his stoic expression lie multiple dimensions, as he navigates the precarious balance between justice and injustice. As Errol Mathias’ story sheds light on the theme of racial prejudice within the system, Hegarty grapples with a personal dilemma when his daughter, Lisa (Maisie Ayres), starts dating Patrick (Rasaq Kukoyi), a young man of African descent with close ties to Mathias. While Hegarty shows generosity towards Patrick, offering help whenever possible, he remains harsh and rude towards others, particularly Lenker. This disparity serves to reinforce the interconnected themes and portray Hegarty in a sympathetic light, but it also deepens and complicates his character. Is his generosity towards Patrick genuine, or does it stem from a past act of guilt involving the wrongful imprisonment of another man?

Questions like these serve to drive the narrative rather than the plot. However, regardless of whether viewers come to watch Criminal Record for its story or character development, they’re likely to enjoy both aspects despite its obvious flaws.

UK USA | 2024 | 8 EPISODES x 50 MINUTES | 2.00:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

Cast & Crew

writers: Paul Rutman, Ameir Brown, Thomas Eccleshare & Natasha Narayan.
director: Shaun James Grant & Jim Loach
starring: Peter Capaldi, Cush Jumbo, Aysha Kala, Shaun Dooley, Zoë Wanamaker, Charlie Creed-Miles & Stephen Campbell Moore.