tue 28/01/2020

The Smoke, Sky1 | reviews, news & interviews

The Smoke, Sky1

The Smoke, Sky1

Tough and confident start for new Fire Brigade drama

Going to blazes: the White Watch firefighters tackle an East London inferno

A new series about a team of London firefighters? Probably a bit like Casualty meets The Bill, with added smoke and cats stuck in trees. But no - writer Lucy Kirkwood (of Skins fame) has created a raw chunk of contemporary drama which isn't afraid to rip up a few preconceptions.

The scene you're likely to remember most vividly from this opener was the bit where Kev Allison, the hero-fireman back at work after a long recuperation from injuries, pulled his trousers down at an official Fire Brigade awards ceremony to reveal the full extent of his burns. He'd had more than a few drinks and was (for the time being) feeling no pain, but for the rest of us it was shocking and horrific, and probably the first time you'd have seen anything like it in a programme airing at 9pm. It was an unambiguous announcement that The Smoke doesn't intend to be a soap.

Almost equally startling was the episode's opening scene, a petrifyingly intense depiction of the fire in a block of flats in which Kev (Jamie Bamber, pictured right), trapped on an upper floor, suffered his injuries. The sense of unbearable heat, rising panic, poisonous fumes and disorientation was enough to cause palpitations in a sensitive viewer, and the moment where Kev was lying helplessly amid the flames, trying to shelter a smoke-blackened baby from the inferno, veered towards the truly traumatic. The poor bastard had even got a ferocious kicking from a couple of local yobs as he battled his way through the wreckage.

When we came round it was nine months later, and Kev was about to take his first ride with his buddies from White Watch at the Mile End station after long months of medical treatment and rehab. The team's buddy-bonding rituals inevitably form a large part of the story, and the laddish banter is scarcely alleviated by the presence of Ziggy (Pippa Bennett-Warner), the only female on the team but no less blokeish for that. Talk of erections and knicker-wetting is all part of the daily badinage, while shagging and lager loom large in the after-hours lives of our working-class heroes.

But Kirkwood has created some powerful and convincing personal relationships too, not least between Kev and his girfriend Trish (Jodie Whittaker, pictured left). At first it looked as if Kev's problems in returning to the perils of firefighting were going to be mostly psychological, but as the gruesome extent of his physical injuries became clear, so did the daunting scale of the problems he and Trish face in keeping their relationship together. Further complications are waiting to pounce  from the way that Trish has been leaning heavily on Kev's best pal Mal (Rhashan Stone) for support. Meanwhile, Kev's sense of betrayal by the shifty senior officer who left him trapped in a blazing building is the prism through which we view a stark divide between the aloof Fire Brigade brass and the grunts who do the heavy lifting.

Opening episodes are notoriously difficult, but this one stormed out of the traps like a champion. Bamber and Whittaker are both excellent, and the combination of unretouched East London landscapes and Kirkwood's punchy writing gives The Smoke an earthy, unvarnished feel which should serve it well.

The scene you'll remember most vividly was where hero-fireman Kev pulled his trousers down at an official Fire Brigade ceremony to reveal the full extent of his burns


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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