‘The Long Call’ Review: Mystery, Representation And Soap Opera Sensibilities

New Adaptation of Best-Selling Novel "The Long Call" Comes to BritBox

A good mystery story has the potential of becoming more than just entertainment. It has the potential to become a whole phenomenon. Back in the day, shows like Dallas became famous in the mainstream media by adding mystery to their plots. And who doesn’t like a good old-fashioned whodunit kind of plot? Writers such as Agatha Christie made their whole careers around it. So, it isn’t a surprise when shows like Twin Peaks or Sherlock become successes. People love mysteries, but they love mysteries they can participate in even more. So, the question is this. Does The Long Call satisfy this hunger for mystery, or might it just be too dull to ignite the detective passion in its viewers? 

The Long Call is a mystery TV miniseries broadcasted by ITV, based on the novel by the same name written by Ann Cleeves. The miniseries stars Ben Aldridge, Juliet Stevenson, Martin Shaw, and Pearl Mackie. The show tells the story of detective Matthew Venn. As he struggles with his family issues and tries to solve a crime that might involve the church he grew up with, but that also made his family reject him for being gay. Can Venn leave out his own biases and closeness to the case to find the truth?

'The Long Call' Review

The first episode of The Long Call works as a very good setup for the mystery at hand. The show introduces the main players one by one, showing that everybody in this little town where everything happens has secrets. From very early on, audiences’ minds will start working. Piecing the clues together one after the other. 

This introduction to the story also makes most of the subplots interesting, while at the same time being related to the main mystery. One of these big subplots is Venn’s struggle between his family and the life he has taken for himself. A good example of how representation should be done on the screen. The character of Matthew Venn is a married gay man that doesn’t follow any of the stereotypes that gay people have fallen into on TV for decades. Ben Aldridge does an excellent job as the struggling detective and comes off as the best performer of the show. 

Pearl Mackie is also a standout in the role of Detective Jen Rafferty, Venn’s colleague during the investigation. Both of them have good chemistry and make for a good investigative team. Sadly, the rest of the cast doesn’t come off as well, giving strangely dull performances and awkward line deliveries throughout all the episodes. This kind of inconsistency comes off as very strange, but it is still there, breaking the immersion and possibly becoming a distraction from the main storyline. 

The story itself progresses at a good pace, but the later episodes never reach the highs of the first episode, both in tension and atmosphere. It’s very soon when the show leaves out the tension in favor of more soap opera sensibilities and a bit of melodrama that doesn’t really connect. A bit more balance between the mystery and this relationship and family matter would have taken the miniseries further in terms of appreciation. It is clear that the show lacks the punch that other similar shows like Broadchurch have, and as it progresses it becomes duller than it should. 

On a technical level, The Long Call is quite a looker. The cinematography by Bjørn Bratberg is outstanding and does a lot of the heavy work when it comes to creating tension and suggesting things to the viewers by using only images. There are some really amazing visuals here, focusing attention on the beauty of the British countryside and the menacing and alluring nature of the sea that surrounds it. 

Visually, the show is just amazing. The score by Samuel Sim becomes overbearing at times, trying to manipulate too much of what the viewer is feeling at certain moments. It becomes even more clear when what’s happening doesn’t really connect, but the music is blasting as if it was the most important moment ever.

It isn’t easy to ignite curiosity in viewers. Especially in an age where exposition has become synonymous with plot and a lot of viewers want everything concerning a story explained no matter what. People nowadays seem to be afraid of analyzing something by themselves, and that might be why The Long Call sometimes approaches its revelations and investigations as if something lacking attention was being reported to. 

The Long Call isn’t Broadchurch. That show had amazing characters and even more amazing actors to bring the story to life. It is understandable that ITV is trying to repeat the success of that kind of show, but it might be time to look for some better source material that doesn’t adhere to a formula so much. If not, then these mystery shows will become as predictable as comic book movies, and when that happens to a detective story, then what is the purpose of it all? 

If you really need a show high on drama but light on the mystery, then The Long Call might be the show for you. There are better options out there, but for what it is, it’s more than watchable. 

SCORE: 6/10

  • Hrvoje Milakovic is co-owner of Fiction Horizon and a big cinephile. Apart from that, he likes to read comics, play games and collect action figures. He has been featured on LifeWire, Yahoo and IMDb, to name a few.