Few shows whip their fans into a frenzy like Line Of Duty does.
The anticipation surrounding series six of the BBC police drama is immense – heightened, perhaps, because of a delayed air date (filming had to be halted thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic).
You see, Ted Hastings’ famous catchphrases – “Mother of God!” – Jed Mercurio’s clever, twist-heavy writing, and the impressively high calibre of guest stars are just a few elements that make Line Of Duty stand out in the world of TV dramas.
And you won’t be disappointed by the seven new episodes, which are set 18 months on from series five, and see the return of stars Vicky McClure (DI Kate Fleming), Adrian Dunbar (Supt Ted Hastings) and Martin Compston (DS Steve Arnott), alongside new faces Shalom Brune-Franklin and Kelly Macdonald.
Previous series have been six episodes long and Mercurio has joked that the additional episode is necessary because the team “weren’t able to close the case on schedule so we had to give them an extra hour”.
Macdonald is guest lead this season; she plays Detective Chief Inspector Joanne Davidson, a senior investigating officer on an unsolved murder case.
Her suspicious conduct attracts the attention of AC-12 and as the team uncover deeper and darker information, DCI Davidson could turn out to be their most dangerous adversary yet.
Meanwhile, we know there’s a fourth and final H yet to be identified within the Central Police (that’s the codename for a network of corrupt police which has been discovered in the previous series, remember?).
The cast members are all very careful not to give away any spoilers about the latest series of the show, which began back in 2012.
But Nottingham native McClure, 37, says: “I think what we can safely say is that we’re all facing consequences from series five.
“Kate’s always had a slightly tricky personal life, very dedicated to the job – and remains so.”
Compston, who hails from Greenock, gives a little more away about the drama to come.
“The relationship between all the characters is probably a bit strained after everything they’ve been through – and Steve is struggling personally with his back,” reveals the 36-year-old, who we saw lead another BBC drama, The Nest, last year.
“He’s getting more and more problems with painkillers.
“There’s some darker stuff for him because he’s kind of got this image in his head that he’s sort of like Super Cop and he doesn’t want to give that image away, so he’s kind of coming to a breaking point.
“There are some brilliant scenes as an actor in there so I was really excited reading it, and hopefully did the material justice.”
Discussing what we can expect from her role in the show, Trainspotting and Boardwalk Empire star Macdonald suggests her character is “tortured” and “lonely”.
She follows in the footsteps of the likes of Keeley Hawes, Thandie Newton and Stephen Graham who have appeared in the series.
“I was extremely nervous to become involved in the project,” she says. “The guest lead status does feel pretty momentous.
“It was a bit like being the new James Bond! So, it’s very flattering, and also exciting and nerve-racking.”
Twenty-six-year-old Brune-Franklin, who has appeared in Our Girl, plays “diligent” DC Chloe Bishop, and was also incredibly scared arriving at the readthrough with the cast.
“I remember having a mental breakdown in the toilets before, going to my friend [on the phone]: ‘I don’t think I can do this, they’re all in there!’”
The rising star – who was born in the UK, but moved to Australia as a teen – confides the difficult dialogue was the most challenging part of the role, recalling how the police interview scenes were sometimes half-hour-long takes. But there’s a huge amount of support on set, she enthuses.
“Martin was always going, ‘You’re going to be fine. If you mess up, we’ll just go back and go again’. But I was like, ‘I can’t be the person to mess up, I’m brand new!’”
Brune-Franklin also admits that filming during Covid meant the shoot was a more “lonely experience” than it would have been normally because the cast weren’t able to socialise together as much.
And asked how she has found life in lockdown, This Is England star McClure says it “has been what it’s been for everybody – scary and difficult. You’ve just got to be careful of how much news you watch”.
Compston, meanwhile, reflects on what was “heartbreaking” about returning to film Line Of Duty in Belfast, after the first lockdown last spring.
“There’s a wee lovely restaurant below the place we used to stay and you can see a lovely couple who ran the place was packing up, shutting down,” he says.
“And it’s the same back home in Greenock.
“People’s livelihoods have been decimated by this, and they’re gonna be living with repercussions.
“So, it really made you appreciate the fact that we can get back to work, and you don’t take it for granted.”
Many of us have turned to entertaining posts and videos on social media to cheer us up during the pandemic, and for Line Of Duty fans, one in particular may come to mind.
Last October, McClure posted a clip on Twitter of her, Compston, and Dunbar performing a TikTok dance, and it quickly went viral.
“This is Vicky and her evil sense of humour; she ambushes you,” quips Northern Irish star Dunbar, 62, whose breakout role came in 1993 when he starred in Bafta-nominated film Hear My Song.
“She goes, ‘Right, we’ve all got to dance’ and you go, ‘What are you talking about?’ And she goes, ‘Just dance to it!’
“The next thing you know a million people have watched it.
“A lot of the things that Vicky asks you to do is for charity and stuff like that, so you naturally go, ‘Yeah, this is obviously for some kind of worthy cause, I don’t mind making an idiot of myself...’”
McClure chimes in, laughing: “That was for a worthy cause! We were going through a rough time as a country and I just wanted to make people smile and I knew if I got you two on a TikTok it would do just that.”
Plus, she notes, “when you are on set and it is quite wordy and there’s a lot going on and it’s quite stressful”, messing about and being a bit silly with co-stars is “what’s got to happen”.
“I don’t know if I could do a job without being able to do that.”
And who knows what other funny videos from the Line Of Duty set could be shared online next...
“We spent days perfecting an AC-12 Christmas song… which we never got round to releasing,” teases Compston.
“I thought it was pretty good in the end!”
Pandemic won’t be mentioned directly in new series
The new series of Line of Duty will not directly reference Covid, creator Jed Mercurio has revealed.
He recently told the BBC’s Inside Culture With Mary Beard that the new series had been shot so the “pandemic is invisible”.
“What we did decide to do was we snuck in a few allegorical points in relation to the current situation, so sharp-eyed viewers should look out for those,” he added.
He said that dramas generally “should address” the coronavirus pandemic, adding that if he wrote a script inspired by health-related issues, it would be about Covid-19.
Mercurio said: “It feels now that if I were to write about medicine it probably would be directly related to the pandemic, because I think that drama should address that.”
Line Of Duty returns to BBC One on Sunday, March 21
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