‘The Driver’ Episode 1 review

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Having recently narrated the audiobook of his namesake Steven Patrick’s Autobiography, it seems appropriate that David Morrissey’s latest television role takes him back to Manchester.

This is not the cultured, steel-and-glass megalopolis that the city’s tourist board are keen to publicise, however, but the parts that haven’t changed since the days of the Smiths: the back street pubs, the railway arches, the derelict waste grounds, the crawling traffic, the endless rain.…

The Driver may be set in the present day, but it’s surely no coincidence that it starts at pretty much the same spot where Sam Tyler was knocked down in Life on Mars and sent back into the past. The themes of desperation, loss, failing families, unhappiness and the need for excitement to fend off the futility of it all are timeless: equally relevant in 1973, 1984 or 2014.

Vince McKee (David Morrissey) is a cabbie slowly being driven into the ground by the numbing tedium of life behind the wheel. The banality of customer conversation and their I-know-a-better-route-than-this-chum superiority is bad enough; emptying pensioners’ piss-bags, scrubbing up dried sick and getting walloped over the head with a stiletto heel is even worse.

The only thing larger than the distance between his circumstances and the idealist dreams of his youth is the yawning space between him and wife Ros (Claudie Blakely). His relationship with teenage daughter Katie (Sacha Parkinson) is going the same way, while son Tim has disappeared in unusual circumstances. The McKees are hardly the Chorlton Waltons.

Everything changes when Vince’s erstwhile friend Colin (Ian Hart) is released from prison. Ros is horrified by the reappearance of the balding, teddy-eared scally after a six-year stretch in Strangeways, but Vince is genuinely pleased to see him.

However, Colin’s life is as calamitous as Vince’s is leaden: his true love is shacked up with his twin (also played by Hart, bringing to mind another Manchester-based drama: after Bilborough’s death in Cracker, actor Christopher Eccleston returned briefly as the doomed DI’s brother) and while he has no desire to return to jail, he has likewise no intention of knuckling down to the daily drudge as Vince has done.

The Driver David Morrissey

It isn’t long before Colin introduces his old pal to the Horse: a preposterously-named gangster played by Colm Meaney. With a philosophy lifted from a book of quotations and an accent half-inched from Bernard Manning, the Horse needs a driver after his last one succumbed to ‘personal problems’. Vince fits the bill and accepts. Not long afterwards, he’s being chased by the Bill, having fled a routine police stop, hands shaking, heart racing, adrenalin pumping through his system like amyl nitrate in a nightclub’s air-conditioning.

After decades of humdrum honesty, criminality makes a thrillicit change. The inflated pay packet isn’t exactly unwelcome, either. It’s only when the Horse’s demands start to interfere with Vince’s attempts to rebuild his marriage that things start going awry. Not many romantic evenings are improved by having to help Colin cram a coshed youth into the boot of a BMW.

The Driver doesn’t break new ground. Storywise and stylistically, there’s little that hasn’t already been done elsewhere. The car chase in the opening sequence is satisfyingly high-octane (although like many flash-forward beginnings, it mostly serves to cover the fact that the drama has no real starting point) and there are some moody shots of Vince driving through Manchester at night, streams of faceless people on rainswept streets that are crying out for a Bernard Hermann soundtrack, but innovation is scant.

Fortunately, it’s entertaining enough so far for this not to matter.


Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 23 September 2014 on BBC One.

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