mon 09/12/2019

The Driver, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

The Driver, BBC One

The Driver, BBC One

David Morrissey puts his foot down, but the script barely passes its MOT

David Morrissey leaves minicab-driving behind him

A mental blur of airports, stations and dangly cardboard air freshener, minicab-driving has always seemed vulnerable to cliché. The problem facing Vince McKee, David Morrissey‘s driver protagonist in BBC One’s new three-parter, is that the rest of his life is even more dull. His job as a cabbie, involving copious urine, vomit, and a stiletto heel to the neck before he gets tangled up in a criminal gang, is action-packed by contrast. The problem facing the viewer is that despite a decent performance from Morrissey himself and some low comedy from the villains, the mechanics of plot and motivation are grindingly predictable.

The first episode starts in medias res, as the classical epic poets believed was proper, with laudable though possibly rather giddy ambition for a shortish series set in the suburbs of Manchester. It opens brightly, with McKee evading the law in a very shiny limo, quite unlike the kind of vehicle that takes you to the 05:25 Ryanair flight from Luton. His car’s power and gleam contrasts dramatically with the grimily mundane backstreets of Manchester, and all seems set for a nuanced and intriguing piece of drama. As we spool back chronologically, however, the sense of epic drains away. McKee is in a dead-end job, check; a loveless marriage, check; with difficult teenage children, check. You can’t hear yourself think for the ticking of boxes.

His involvement with the gangsters stems less from an intrinsically knotty character than it does from coincidence. His convict mate, an engaging Ian Hart, has just come out of prison, but rather than rejoice in his rehabilitation, immediately falls back in with his criminal mates. McKee, until this point in his life a law-abiding citizen, suddenly finds the gangmaster’s fat envelopes irresistible. Then, as McKee’s criminal commitments begin to clash with an attempt to revive his marriage, the conflict between the two becomes two-dimensional. It’s painting by numbers, with a very thick brush.

Manchester looks like a crime centre should, all stark and monochrome

These themes are so familiar from other TV and cinema that parallels kept popping into my head. It may just have been the Irishness of Colm Meaney’s enjoyable gangster, but I couldn’t help being reminded of how much more originally the film In Bruges deals with guilt and criminality. Or, when it comes to the lure of crime, money and power for the middle-aged man, you have Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos. The Driver feels so small in comparison.

Morrissey has recently been working on the US zombie drama The Walking Dead, and has commented that making TV drama is much the same in both countries, except that the Americans can buy more toys with their budget. While it’s unfair to compare a BBC three-parter with the lavishness at the disposal of a US cable channel, it’s not that The Driver lacks money, as such. It just lacks ideas, which is less excusable.

Despite the limitations of the script, it’s nicely shot. Manchester looks like a crime centre should, all stark and monochrome. It’s just a shame that with resources like these, the writing was also limited to black and white.

It’s painting by numbers, with a very thick brush

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters