Although it never quite lived up to the promise of its riveting opening episode, BBC One’s curiously humourless and very British crime drama-cum-morality play has ridden out a dodgy middle section, some preposterous dialogue and a few nagging inconsistencies in the plot to come out pretty much triumphant on the other side.
Ringleader John’s metamorphosis from cowed yes-man to hard-as-a-knuckleduster-to-the-throat bad ass has struggled for believability throughout the series, but it comes as close to convincing as it ever will in his final speech to Chris.
Justifying it to the audience, via a chat with his adopted daughter and a tenuous analogy with the mouse in The Gruffalo, doesn’t really work; nor have his sudden switches to Mr Confrontation ever been particularly plausible (the ‘Do you feel better, bitch?’ moment with frosty security queen Rebecca is as toe-curling as a sasquatch squeezing into a pair of ballet shoes).
However, seeing this onetime number-crunching deskbound bore talk about how a crime of astronomical proportions has liberated him and turned him into a new man gives off a neat click of credibility – and Steven Mackintosh’s performance in the scene is superb.
The sense of having the weight of his own life lifted from his shoulders is palpable, and his laughing acceptance of his fate at the very end, as he drives his share of the stolen cash back into the counting house, is a perfectly-portrayed culmination of – to use an expression worn-out by reality television – his character’s journey.
Of course, he hasn’t had to carry the show singlehandedly. Although Ashley Walters has been solidly unspectacular and Nicola Walker disappointingly underused, Kierston Wareing and Warren Brown have grown from unpromising beginnings – Gina seemed to be little more than a stereotypically-blousy hairdresser straight out of a bad 1970s sitcom and Marcus’s attempts at humour were so woeful it was as though he aspired to be in a bad 1970s sitcom – into realistic characters who evoke genuine emotional responses to their plight.
The former’s tears of anxiety and the latter’s obvious discomfort and remorse at the events of the heist itself are outstanding and evocative moments; it’s well worth the brief sense of dislocation – caused by the use of a technique whereby the masked robbers are shown as if their disguises were invisible – to see, for the first time, the eternally opportunist, wannabe wideboy looking utterly out of his depth and afraid.
Although there are questions left hanging as the credits roll – If the police knew about the robbery in advance, how come it actually took place? How did the conspirators stash £172 million quid on what looks like a working farm? Why was Kalpesh arrested on a boat? What are the secret pheromonic qualities of John’s dull-looking office, which doubles as a shag den? What, exactly, did Gordon mean when he said: ‘We’re a male-dominated world and we have to accept the odd garnish of vagina’? – the ultimate sense one is left with at the conclusion of Inside Men is satisfaction.
It’s curiously gratifying to see John’s final expression of contented joy, even though he’s obviously about to be sent to prison for many years; and it’s even more pleasing to watch Marcus and Gina zooming across the Severn Bridge – ostensibly to get their story together so they can safely give themselves up but with half a million quid of stolen lucre stashed in the car boot. Crime, it seems, does pay after all.
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 23rd February 2012 on BBC One.
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