Rebus: Richard Rankin on BBC reimagining of Ian Rankin character

BBC’s Rebus reimagines the beloved character as a younger man, as Rachael Davis learns from stars Richard Rankin, Lucie Shorthouse and Brian Ferguson.

Fans of detective fiction will naturally be familiar with the character of John Rebus.

Created by Scottish author Sir Ian Rankin, serialised into the Inspector Rebus detective novels, and brought to the screen in an ITV series starring John Hannah and Ken Stott from 2000 to 2007, Rebus has become something of a household name for crime drama fans.

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Now, in a new BBC series, John Rebus is returning to the small screen in a whole new way. We meet him as a 40-year-old Detective Sergeant played by Outlander star Richard Rankin, a reimagining of the character as a younger man at a different point in his career.

Pictured: John Rebus (RICHARD RANKIN). Credit: BBC/Viaplay/Eleventh Hour/Mark Mainz.Pictured: John Rebus (RICHARD RANKIN). Credit: BBC/Viaplay/Eleventh Hour/Mark Mainz.
Pictured: John Rebus (RICHARD RANKIN). Credit: BBC/Viaplay/Eleventh Hour/Mark Mainz.

“It’s an entirely different version – it’s a completely different world, even,” says Richard Rankin, 41, of the Rebus we meet in the BBC One series.

“We keep using the term reimagining… I think that’s exactly what it is. We’ve had some versions of it on television before. Obviously, we have the books… the popular series of novels by Ian Rankin. And yeah, there’s probably going to be many different expectations of what people want to see.

“In a lot of respects, I think it’s going to be better. We’ve sort of shifted the timeline of it, the age of the characters, how it’s set. And I think it just lends itself to a completely fresh take on it.

“I’m quite excited to see what people think about it.”

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Siobhan Clarke (LUCIE SHORTHOUSE). Picture: BBC/Viaplay/Eleventh Hour/Mark Mainz.Siobhan Clarke (LUCIE SHORTHOUSE). Picture: BBC/Viaplay/Eleventh Hour/Mark Mainz.
Siobhan Clarke (LUCIE SHORTHOUSE). Picture: BBC/Viaplay/Eleventh Hour/Mark Mainz.

Edinburgh detective John Rebus is at something of a psychological crossroads at the start of the series. He’s losing touch with his job, which he finds is increasingly driven by corporate technocrats; he’s involved in a toxic affair he knows he has to end; and he’s been pretty much replaced in his daughter’s life by his ex-wife’s rich husband.

He doesn’t know who he is as a police officer, nor as a family man, and in a time of national discord amid a cost-of-living crisis and rising crime, he begins to wonder if the law still has meaning, or if everyone is reverting to an alternative set of rules out of sheer desperation.

At work, Rebus has been paired with a new partner – Siobhan, a detective constable who’s taken the fast-track course to her job, prompting resentment from old hats like Rebus.

“There’s definitely a sense of a bit of friction between them,” says We Are Lady Parts and Bulletproof star Lucie Shorthouse, who plays Siobhan.

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“I think Siobhan represents a new wave of the police force. She’s come up through this kind of perceived ‘fast track’, so there’s this sense of her having to really earn her place, win the trust of her colleagues.

“Rebus is well respected, but has a very different approach to things, a lot more old school. So I think they’ve been paired together for a reason, because they can both learn from each other.

“He can encourage her to be braver, and I guess think outside the box, and she can encourage him to maybe stick by the rules in some regards.”

Meanwhile, Rebus’s family drama is compounded by his ex-soldier brother Michael, who is struggling financially during the cost-of-living crisis and desperately crosses the line in order to provide for his family. They don’t see eye to eye, and Brian Ferguson, who stars as Michael, says their relationship was interesting to explore.

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“I think that there’s a lot in this series that’s kind of about extremes, and actually the opposites of things… the duality of things,” says Ferguson, who previously appeared in Line Of Duty.

“So I guess that what you have is these characters who are living in quite extreme situations. With Michael, that’s about leaving the Army after 20 years, coming back to the real world and he’s now a courier delivery driver, and really, genuinely, struggling to put food on the table.”

“So what you have,” he adds, is “a very, very human story, and actually a very grounded human story, and real, about what it is to be alive for a lot of people now, just struggling to make ends meet.”

Ferguson adds that John and Michael’s relationship felt distinctly Scottish in many ways, and particularly representative of relationships between Scottish men he’s witnessed and experienced.

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“To me, (it) felt like a relationship that I’ve seen very often growing up in Scotland,” he says.

“I don’t know if it’s not uniquely Scottish, but certainly, I suppose, quite an antagonistic relationship, with a lot of love that’s buried very deeply, a lot of the time – and I think (it’s) that struggle of how to express love, certainly, that I recognise in Scotland between men.”

The series honours the Scottish roots of the detective story with a strong cast of Scottish talent, a richly Scottish crew including writer Gregory Burke, and filming locations in the heart of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

“We shot half in Glasgow and half in Edinburgh,” explains Rankin.

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“A lot of the location stuff was in Edinburgh, so anything outdoors, pretty much, was shot in Edinburgh, which was great.

“Some of the locations that we have are excellent – I think we were very lucky to get them. Because Rebus is such a very iconic Edinburgh, East Coast story, I think we were able to do that, which was great.

“We also shot at some pretty interesting locations in Glasgow as well, which I think just really helped the grittiness, the edginess of the drama. I felt that we were in it, in that sort of environment, which I think really helped – it helped me anyway, (to) get my head into it.

“I think it all achieves what it sets out to, which is that sort of dark, gritty Scottish noir, I suppose you can call it.”

Rebus starts on BBC One on Saturday, May 18 at 9.25pm.

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