I'll admit, the moment I saw 'Philip Glenister' (of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes fame) in the preview for the episode, I fully expected Hidden to be reminiscent of those, only with DCI Gene Hunt in a slightly flashier job.
In Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Glenister was a witty, brash character; spitting one-liners back at opponents and not dilly-dallying when it came to getting results. In Hidden, he seems to be turned on his head, as Harry Venn, a character who is the epitome of 'a shadow of his former self'. Despite this, Venn still carries an air of DCI Hunt with him, still flirting, drinking, smoking and swearing, and sourcing most of his information in ways that are probably dubious at best. I wonder whether Glenister is doomed to play the same sort of roles forever? Although, perhaps doomed is the wrong word: Venn is a compelling character to watch, with his sharp humour and his world-weary outlook. Glenister wears the wayward law man role like a second skin and it just works.
In the first episode, Venn, a scruffy solicitor, gets a visit from a mysterious woman posing as a lawyer (Thekla Reuten as Gina Hawkes) who claims to be representing an old acquaintance (Paul Ritter as the sinister Steve Quirke), prompting flashbacks of a younger Harry at the wheel of a getaway vehicle with his brother bleeding out in the back seat. Naturally, Venn is drawn to the case and begins investigating in a way that would do DCI Hunt proud. (Paying hotel staff to let you into a lady's bedroom? Going through said lady's things? Stealing the aforementioned lady's medication from her bathroom? My my, Venn gets things done.)
Various mysteries surface (is Gina really a lawyer? Is Harry's brother still alive?) and I must admit, I am intrigued. Gina is reluctant to hand over any information that she doesn't deem to be vital (including, apparently, any justifications or even anything more than an answering machine contact number) and on a number of occasions, blatantly lies about information that she may or may not have. She alone makes me want to watch next week's episode.
Throughout the episode, the sepia flashbacks, unsteady camera, and excellent incidental music (and sometimes the appropriate lack thereof) lent themselves to a gritty, 'real life' feel. They also linked with the second plot-line of the episode, the political hoo-hah of the PM's expenses and his struggle to form a coalition government. At times the political side seems a little forced, as though it is trying too hard to mirror current affairs (not only with the coalition, but with rioting and protesting in London too), but one gets the feeling that it will all turn out to be relevant and very important, so I'll keep my mouth shut until all is revealed. The politicians are brilliantly represented, with a slightly Cameron-esque PM (David Michaels as Brian Worsley) and a smarmy opponent in Bertie Carvel as Alexander Wentworth. Anna Chancellor (of The Hour) is superb as the superior, slightly severe Elspeth Verney, telling the Prime Minister that if he wants to “tell [her] [his] side of the story, [she]'d be more than happy to offer [him] an interview”.
The script is almost consistently brilliant, with only a few duff lines (“I can tell you’re smart because you’re not drinking the coffee,”) and Glenister performs each one perfectly, and responds largely with silence, or with a one word response after extensive pauses when questioned, as he is wont to do. No-one does a dramatic pause like Glenister.
It was also good to see Venn as a three-dimensional character; a man with an ex-girlfriend, an ex-wife (with whom he occasionally still sleeps), a son that hates him, and a mildly moronic assistant who encourages him to take cocaine (and plays music that, just for a moment, makes it seem like Ashes to Ashes all over again). He clings to the relationship between himself and his wife and son with a sort of desperation that somehow doesn't seem pathetic, it just seems a little hopeless.
Harry Venn doesn't strike me as a man that I'd want as a solicitor though; ignoring the requests of clients until the very last minute, and cancelling appointments because something more exciting has come up. But I suppose if he behaved, it wouldn't be nearly so interesting to watch.
Other not-so-obvious characters present excellent perspective. Richard Dormer as Frank Hanna is the questionably innocent ex-criminal turned skewed voice of reason. He warns Venn that trying to 'find out the truth' could land him in jail for 10 years, and spends some time reminiscing about the times that he spent partaking in various illegal activities.
Harry's reaction to almost everything that is thrown at him, however, can be summed up by one truly brilliant piece of dialogue between Frank and himself: "You want my advice?" "No."
Naturally the episode ends on a cliffhanger with Harry and his assistant narrowly escaping the explosion in his office after an anonymous tip-off. The camera zooms in on Glenister's face and the music turns to white noise before a blackout. Oo-er. How tense.
The next episode of Hidden will air on BBC One at 9pm tonight (13th October), starring David Suchet (Poirot) as Sir Nigel Fountain.