Wednesday, December 10, 2014

George Gently: Character Development

A wave of disappointment swept over me when I realized I had finished George Gently, a British detective series I had been watching straight through from the beginning on Netflix. For several weeks, the cases of Chief Detective Inspector George Gently and Sergeant John Bacchus were a regular part of my life and gave me a lot to think about. The show ran for six seasons, with two to five 90-minute shows per season.

What sets this series apart is that the theme of character development is established in the first episode and continued in a subtle way throughout. The Chief Inspector is into righteousness: policemen must follow the law while investigating crime, and endeavor to be courteous and respectful as well. The Sergeant is the classic "callow youth." He's a smart aleck. He jumps to conclusions. He resorts to trickery and violence to get the bad guys, assuming he knows who the bad guys are. He indulges every sort of prejudice. In the first episode, Gently takes it on himself to teach Bacchus how to be a good copper, and a good man. For instance, one crime involves some gay men: Gently is tolerant and open-minded; Bacchus is scornful and spiteful. In the course of solving the case, their views are tested, and the callow youth gets his comeuppance. He matures, a rare thing to observe both in fiction and in real life.

All this requires terrific acting, and no one is more convincing than Lee Ingleby as Sergeant Bacchus. A slender man, with a sunken chest and an eager gait, Ingleby is well-cast in the role of reluctant student. His expressive face plays out the theme of each show, as he makes the transition from callowness to enhanced understanding, from lazy copper to passionate truth seeker. Martin Shaw has the assets of a gruff voice and martial bearing to help him convey the attitude of righteousness. His role is easier because it is consistent, but in every show the Chief Inspector's loyalty to his principles is tested, and he has to show ability to control his emotions and impulses, with an older man's stiff, pouchy face. These guys are so good I can hardly believe they are actors with personalities of their own.