The presence of David Morrissey’s name is usually an indicator of quality. We can forgive the man Basic Instinct 2 when his career highs include such dramas as State of Play, Clocking Off, Cape Wrath and The Walking Dead.
With The Driver – a new three-part drama from BBC One – Morrissey’s name is credited twice, both as lead actor and as executive producer, and in both roles it is clear that Morrissey has returned to the kind of socially-concerned domestic realism that characterised the early part of his career.
Morrissey is Vince, a Mancunian taxi driver beleaguered by endless petty humiliations, a marriage that has settled into complacency, and one huge elephant in the room, in the form of an absent and estranged son. As played by Morrissey, Vince is a study of masculinity in crisis – a decent man, numbed by boredom and routine into making a fateful decision to become the driver for a criminal gang.
In many ways, The Driver plays like an extended episode of Jimmy McGovern’s Accused or The Street – no surprise, given that its writer, Danny Brocklehurst, has scripted episodes for both those shows. However, although Brocklehurst’s interests, like McGovern’s, are in exploring the tragic consequences of moral enervation, The Driver is more than 21st century morality drama.
Its opening sequence – as Vince screeches and spin-turns his way through Manchester to evade the police – has as much edge-of-year-seat tension as anything you’ll see on telly this year.
The script is also genuinely funny, Brocklehurst having an ear for the kind of deadpan wit that is the currency among old mates. ‘You know my mum,’ says Vince’s old friend, Colin, newly released from prison. ‘If it doesn’t come with ice and lemon, she’s not interested.’
But it’s not just Colin’s mum who is seeking an escape from the deadening banality of life. Vince’s wife, Ros (Claudie Blakely), shuts out the world, iPod in, training for marathons. His work colleague (Lee Ross) uses the internet to diversify his sex life. As for Vince’s absent son – the mystery is unresolved in the first episode (screened at BAFTA earlier this week), but the implication is that he has found a new ideology to espouse…
The characters are compassionately drawn, but there is a heartbeat of tension that pulses through the drama that makes you fear for the consequences of Vince’s actions. Sounds become heightened and overpowering: the wheeling and thudding of skateboarders; the ticking of a car indicator. A shot of pounding windscreen wipers cuts to the feet of Vince’s wife on the treadmill. The monotony of life is being ticked away, but there is something grimly portentous in it too.
On the evidence of the first episode, The Driver doesn’t break new ground in TV drama in the way that recent hits such as Happy Valley and The Honourable Woman may have done; but there is more than enough reason to tune into subsequent episodes.
Overwhelmingly, as in all good tragedies, one is left with the impression that Vince may not realise quite what he has jeopardised until it is lost.
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