Is there any genre more ripe for lampooning and harpooning than the police procedural drama? Any format so destined for mediocrity? At their worst, these shows can be paint-by-numbers cliche factories, populated by stock characters, earnest expressions, pointlessly inserted acronyms and plucky sidekicks (not to mention final act plot-twists, sign-posted in ten foot letters from scene one, minute one). At their best… Well, just spend a few hours in the company of Crime, Britbox’s much heralded new drama, which finds the brilliant Dougray Scott in his most broiling, potent mode to date. Irvine Welsh’s first ever TV drama is a revelation in the detective department, humming from the off with a nervous, electrified energy, and obliterating any fears of the drab or the predictable. And while the Edinburgh setting provides the same taut, dreich, sordid energy of Welsh’s Trainspotting, it is Scott himself who is the undisputed centre of this particular universe.
Scott plays Ray Lennox with a temple-pulsing intensity – a DI in the Serious Crime unit whose sense of reality and sobriety have been entirely flayed by his past. Under the actor’s stewardship, Lennox doesn’t seem so much to be battling his own demons as strangling everyone else’s, too. But the genius here is that Scott leavens the DI’s surface anguish and fury with moments of tenderness, quietness, and fragility, too. In other words: forget all your fears of police procedural pitfalls. This is an immense study in character and identity, and it touches, intriguing, on some of the most important and potent subjects of the moment: from the power of the police to prosecute themselves, to the rolling conversation around addiction and mental health. It’s rarely light, but it’s always compelling. Gentleman’s Journal sat down with Irvine Welsh and Dougray Scott to talk about the new show.
GJ: What are the particular challenges of converting a character in a story like this from a novel into a TV series?
Irvine: It’s a good thing to do because you get a totally different understanding of the character. You know, you have to revisit who that character actually is. I think the original novel is very much action-based — he’s just running around, doing a lot of stuff. But because we didn’t do the Miami part — we’re only do Edinborough part of the book — we have to try to recreate his dynamism, and recreate that kind of movement.
GJ:Dougray, What’s it like having more than just a script to draw on? You’ve obviously got a whole novel to tuck into — is that intimidating in some way?
Dougray: It’s really helpful. I love working from novels and I’ll have the novel around me all the time on set. And I read Crime probably 25 times — there’s the stuff that you keep going back to, and you go: this is the heart of it. This is the essence of this character. This is what he means. Lennox is a very complex character. I remember reading something Arthur Miller wrote: “that the definition of a character is that which, in life, you can’t walk away from.” I think Lennox has quite a few layers. And one of them is that, when people are vulnerable, and need to be protected and need to have their voices heard… he can’t walk away from that. They are not just another statistic, and he’s a voice for those people.
Irvine created this incredibly complex character. He’s done his job brilliantly as a writer and as an actor I’ve just got to animate him — to breathe life into him and make him authentic and believable and dynamic.
GJ:How easy is it for you to walk away from a character that intense once filming has wrapped?
Dougray: Well, you don’t want to sound wanky, do you — we’re pretending. It’s not real life. But at the end of the day, you’re utilizing your own experiences and your own journey in order to authenticate the experiences of the character. So inevitably the two clash. And so you jump into this kind of pool of narrative and of emotion, and you have to take a risk. You have to really be prepared to go to the extremes with this character — because he lives on such a knife edge and he enjoys it. That’s how he wants to be. He doesn’t want to relax. He doesn’t want to be in the office. He pushes the envelope constantly. That’s to do with the nature of his job. And it’s also to do with the experiences of his own life and how that affects him and the choices that he makes. But it stays with you. It’s pretty dark, you know — the stuff that you have to research and read about and talk to people about.
"A character like this stays with you. It can be pretty dark..."
GJ: What kind of research do you do?
Dougray: I spoke to this one guy in particular who has really been invaluable and he gave me a lot of insight into the world of the police. But I’ve also read so many books about serial killers, because that’s what Lennox is all about. I’m obsessed with them. And I want to find out not just how does someone do it — but also: why did you do this? Why would you kill someone? So you know, you end up one night at three o’clock in the morning, thinking: what am I going to do? Shall I read about sport? No, let’s read about [serial killer] Robert Black!
GJ:The last 18 months has been a very tumultuous time in the relationship between the public and the police. How does that change the way you look at this project?
Irvine: The whole thing with the Metropolitan Police officers and the dropping of the Prince Andrew case and the investigation — these are the kinds of things that, justifiably, get people to question their relationship with the police. But these things have been going on for a long, long time. This society is flawed. All organizations have flaws, and they have flawed people in them. Any organization is going to be corrupt and kind of liable to that kind of infestation if that’s the prevailing kind of ideology and practice in society. So you have to kind of take that into account when you’re writing as well.
"The world is ruled by algorithms — we're all sort of addicts now..."
GJ: Dougray, Is that in the back of your mind while you’re playing the character like Lennox?
Dougray: Lennox says at one point: “I’m dealing with cops who could teach career criminals a thing or two about subterfuge.” So part of the challenge for him is not just the crime — it’s also the self-centered nature of police work and the politics that go on within the office. And for him, it’s just about bringing those evil people to justice and taking them off the street. It infuriates him that part of his job is not just to navigate criminals, but to navigate the people around him, to walk amongst them. [He is infuriated], as Irvine just said, by the nature of police work when it comes to dealing with some people in society as opposed to other people in society — Prince Andrew being a prime example of that. And by how police and on occasion will, you know, cover for each other. Bad people exist, and everyone’s flawed. But unfortunately when it comes to the police force, they’re the front line – they’re supposed to be protective of good from evil.
Lennox is not a superhero, but he’s a kind of voice of those vulnerable people. And they want him to protect them and to help them. And he’s very unequivocal about his commitment to those people. So yeah, I did think about it.
GJ: How do you think our cultural understanding around addiction has changed since the novel was written, some 13 years ago?
Irvine: I think we’re more empathetic about issues around addiction. But I think also one of the things that has happened is that we’ve come to realise the addictive patterns in all our behaviours. The world is ruled by algorithms and consumerism — and the downside to that is, you know, everybody’s kind of an addict. I think the positive side of that is that we don’t tolerate the levels of abuse we used to tolerate.
We don’t have all these certainties [in society anymore.] So we have all these different people who are all lost souls, kind of clamouring for attention in some ways, and we’re in this terribly narcissistic world now. So it’s a complicated terrain to navigate.
Joe: What are cliches or tired tropes of storytelling, particularly around police dramas, that you’re really bored of in the modern age?
Irvine: We wanted to avoid all the militaristic nonsense of all these cop dramas. We wanted to imagine a bunch of cops as a kind of desperate ship of fools. And it wasn’t about good guys trying to catch bad guys. It was about fucked up guys trying to stop more fucked up guys from doing damage. So yeah, we’re trying to build in a level of complexity and I suppose reality. I’m not bothered about the procedural stuff — but about the psychological, the kind of deeper characterization.
"I've always been interested in the 'why' as much as the 'how'"
Dougray: Listen, there’s a tried and tested method that works well for police dramas or television, and they’ve been done very successfully, so I’m not knocking them. It’s just that I’ve always been as interested in character as I have been in narrative and plot. Plot without character to me is just dull. It’s boring. And I think that Irvine has created, in his novel, a great bloody story. But he’s also created this incredible character. How did he get to be who he is? Why did he become a cop? And you really delve very deeply into that psychological journey that Lennox has gone on as a human being. It makes for a very dynamic combination.
With Lennox, he needs to do this to survive. This is part of his DNA — and he’s clinging on for dear life, metaphorically speaking. It’s oxygen for him — this world, the darkness, everything. He’s just very different, I think, from what you normally see on screen. These other dramas are great and successful. But I’ve always been attracted to the depth, the resonance — the ‘why’ as much as the ‘how.’
Crime is available on Britbox now