Penned by former Liverpool police officer and taxi driver Tony Schumacher, The Responder is a gripping crime thriller set in the mean streets he once patrolled. Our introduction to beat copper Chris Carson (Martin Freeman) occurs during a therapy session, revealing a flawed character struggling with the constant boiling point of nightshift on the front line. (“Every night, there’s spit on my face and blood on my boots and it never stops.”) There are also childhood scars, whatever led to his demotion from Inspector, and his attempts to appease his increasingly distraught wife, Kate (MyAnna Buring). Carson's mother, June (Rita Tushingham) is terminally ill in a care home, with mounting medical expenses. He maintains an uneasy friendship with former schoolfriend Carl (Ian Hart), now a mid-level drug dealer. An ex-colleague, Ray Mullen (Warren Brown) suspects his corruption. But the plot is truly set in motion when a streetkid and heroin addict Casey (Emily Fairn) known to Carson steals a stash of drugs from Carl that are worth significantly more than she is aware of.
On one level, this is a taut crime drama featuring familiar tropes. The pawns at the lowest point of the organised crime ladder live in constant fear: of ending up in jail, but far more palpably, the consequences of falling foul of those higher up the chain. Amongst this underworld unfolding in neglected housing a few Google Maps clicks from The Cavern Club, there is also grim humour. A gang member claims to hate bagheads (addicts) despite his career choice being wholly reliant on them. A teenage friend of Casey’s, petty thief Marco (Josh Finnan), will hawk shoplifted cheese one moment, then think nothing of running off with a holdall containing tens of thousands of pounds worth of cocaine the next. He is also aghast to discover people eat salmon that didn't come in a tin - for breakfast.
On another level, it is a psychological character study. Carlson is partnered with a rookie, Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo), saddled with her own personal issues. But the main plaudits go to Freeman. He has made a career out of playing ‘nice guys,’ from Tim, the chirpy counterfoil to Ricky Gervais’ egotistical David Brent in The Office, to Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. In The Responder, as a man on the verge of losing everything - family, freedom, even his life – he delivers a mesmerising performance.
On the verge of losing everything - family, freedom, even his life – Freeman delivers a mesmerising performance.
Crime fiction, whether on our screens or in print, has always held a mirror to the wider world. In 2022, mental health is much less stigmatised than it would have been in the days of Z Cars or even The Bill. Freeman portrays an individual whose attempts to hold it together seem akin to a drowning man lunging for a lifebuoy. From his Scouse brogue to demonstrating a flawed but empathetic humanity, he knocks it out of Stanley Park.