An absorbing twist on the police drama

Criminal: UK (Netflix) might sound boring to some potential viewers. Take into consideration these details from episodes one and two. It has three sets: an interrogation room, a room in which others watch from behind a see-through mirror and tape the interrogation, and a hallway outside both rooms. Not much. But inside those rooms two policemen question a suspect for murder (episode one) or attempted murder (episode two). The suspect has his lawyer, and from the start we know nothing. Is he guilty? Are the police simply desperate to accuse someone, maybe anybody? One has to watch to find out, and one will watch because Criminal: UK isn’t boring.

The formula is not new. Numerous movies have gone inside police stations or, more commonly, courtrooms, as in classic films such as Anatomy of a Murder (starring James Stewart) with lawyers, witnesses, police and the accused, to entertain an audience ignorant of the crime and its perpetrator. What makes a story of that kind fascinating is not only that the principal characters and the viewers must wait to hear the verdict (sifting evidence along the way), but that they may also reach the end without truly knowing whether the accused is guilty. As I say, it’s an old formula, but it works by withholding key facts that would make the experience too simple.

Even Jimmy Stewart left the courthouse to interview various and sundry parties that might help him exonerate his client. Not so in Criminal: UK. Most of the action is in the interrogation room itself, a somewhat claustrophobic, garishly lit space, where a man or woman who, for all we know, is innocent, does everything possible (with his lawyer) to satisfy or, if guilty, stonewall the investigators.

The actors will be familiar. Katherine Kelly (Mr Selfridge) plays Natalie Hobbs: professional and apparently smug but doing her best to hide the pain of an unhappy marriage we never see. Lee Ingleby (Inspector George Gently) as Tony Myerscough, chief interrogator of episode one (of three), nurses a suffering love for Katherine.

The suspect (and, to the police, criminal) of the episode is Dr Edward Fallon, played by a poker-faced David Tennant. The crime of murdering his stepdaughter, with whom he is supposed to have had sex, is as grim as the setting, and the dialogue is, at least for the first half, mainly one-sided.

All Fallon says is “No comment” to the string of questions Myerscough fires his way. Will he break down? Should he break down? The atmosphere is absorbing and tense.

I could say more, but perhaps the best advice I can give is to watch it.

Dr Carl C Curtis III is a professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia