Martin Freeman in The Responder: “a contender for the best police drama of the year”


• Martin Freeman stars as a morally compromised urgent response officer in the BBC drama The Responder

• Rotten Tomatoes’ 15th best TV show of 2022 (So Far), with a 100% critics’ rating

• “Martin Freeman is magnificent. With rage in his heart and spit on his face, Freeman will surely win all the awards for this drama written by an ex-cop that’s as riveting as a thriller and as profound as a documentary” The Guardian

• “Authentic, propulsive, funny and powerful, this already feels like a contender for the best police drama of the year” London Evening Standard

Rotten Tomatoes’ 15th best TV show of 2022 (So Far), the BBC crime drama The Responder follows Chris Carson (Emmy winner Martin Freeman from Sherlock, Black Panther and The Hobbit), an embattled urgent response officer tackling a series of night shifts in Liverpool. 

While trying to keep his head above water both personally and professionally, Chris is forced to take on a rookie partner, Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo – named “Britain’s most exciting rising star” by Harper’s Bazaar). Both soon discover that survival in this high pressure, relentless night-time world will depend on them either helping or destroying each other.

Written by author and ex-police officer Tony Schumacher, the five-part series has a rare 100% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Radio Times calling The Responder “a triumph”, and London Evening Standard saying, “Authentic, propulsive, funny and powerful, this already feels like a contender for the best police drama of the year.” 

The show is inspired by Tony’s own experiences on the beat. “When I first joined the police,” he says, “I remember on my second or third night, an old bobby called Colin said to me, ‘You will never knock on someone’s door and tell them they’ve won the lottery’. You are only ever going to deliver bad news in this job.”

Tony says the decision to set the series at night was deliberate. “I worked for ten years as a copper and I drove a taxi for five years, working nights in both jobs… In every night job I’ve ever done, I’ve invariably met many more interesting people. The real characters come out of the night, like bats that the sensible people with sensible jobs never get to meet.”

But working nights takes its toll. “Unless you’ve consistently worked night shifts,” Tony says, “you won’t know the hangover that comes with working at night… I used to work six 12-hour night shifts on the trot and on the final night you always felt like you were walking through mud. When you’re that tired, that’s when you’re at your weakest, that’s when you’re the most vulnerable, and that’s when you’re not thinking straight.” 

In a job where every decision is crucial, constantly running low inevitably comes at a price. “Chris is a hard person,” Martin says. “He can handle himself as well as dole out the punishment when necessary. But he’s really not in a good way at all. We have tiny little glimpses of enjoyment in his life and we know the things that he values – his wife and child above himself – but he just doesn’t know how to make that work.”

While Tony admits that being a writer now comes with stresses of its own, he’s quick to quip, “…I’m less likely to get PTSD from writing.”

Martin says Tony’s humour comes through consistently in The Responder. “That gallows sense of humour is prevalent across all the emergency services where responders are dealing with life and death situations.”

He says he was excited after reading just the first few pages of the script: “I felt this was really something else… It’s a drama that doesn’t offer answers but asks a lot of questions. There is nothing neat about it – it’s chaotic and unsettling and there’s an underlying authenticity to it.”

But Martin had moments of doubt, too. “I have a reasonably healthy ego but there were several times in the run up to filming that I asked Tony… if they were sure they had the right man for the job and couldn’t they get someone better than me? Then Tony said that he’d had me in mind when he wrote it and kept seeing me in scenes when he was writing it, so that really relaxed me.”

Chris is not the hero riding in to save anyone’s day, and that’s precisely what drew Martin to the role. “Drama without vulnerable characters is very boring,” he believes, “because it’s just a lot of cardboard cut-outs of people being heroic.”  

“I don’t often play characters without problems. I never seem to play the guy getting off the yacht with a mojito in his hand. It would be nice to wear linen and sunglasses, but no, I always seem to put myself in situations where I’m trying to stay alive,” Martin laughs. 

For all his flaws, Chris isn’t hard to relate to. “I shouldn’t love him but I do,” Martin says. “Who amongst us hasn’t messed up at some point? Perhaps not to the same extent that Chris has, but who amongst us wouldn’t do some of the things he does if faced with the same circumstances?”

For fans of Martin’s earlier, “friendlier” roles, it may take a few moments to adjust to this darker incarnation, but the critics agree it’s worth it. Calling The Responder “as riveting as a thriller and as profound as a documentary,” The Guardian says. “Martin Freeman is magnificent… With rage in his heart and spit on his face, Freeman will surely win all the awards for this.” 

The Responder has already been renewed for a second season.  Watch the trailer:

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