The North East, January 1974. The three day week is in operation and harsh budgeting sees police resources cut back to the bone. Centralisation is the Force's new watchword, leading to local stations being closed down and boarded up. As a result, lawless urban decay is rife on the working class estates and no one seems willing to lift a finger to help the honest and scared residents.
Enter the one man who is - Detective Sergeant Barry Harrigan, fresh from a bloody stint policing the mean streets of Hong Kong. Stephen Tompkinson plays the hard nosed, haunted, titular copper who plays by his own rule book as a cross between Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and Edward Woodward in The Equalizer. He's ridding the streets of scumbags with pure fanatical aggression one minute and showing true kindness and decent old fashioned chivalry the next by going above and beyond for the victims, most notably a terrorised single mother played by Amy Manson.
Tompkinson's a good actor often typecast in quaint and fairly innocuous nice guy TV roles, but those with long memories shouldn't be too surprised by this more hard as nails persona as he has played a tough cop before in a rather overlooked undercover cop series from the '00s called In Deep. But despite his convincing tough guy act, he's let down an awful lot by the threadbare script from former copper Arthur Mckenzie (allegedly based on a true story) that struggles to depict him as an everyday bloke; scenes with colleagues played by Maurice Roeves and Gillian Kearney for example are often cringey and have a distinctly first take feel. Which brings us to the direction; debut director Vince Woods shows his inexperience easily and loosely strings together some pretty shallow scenes which are littered with McKenzie's quasi-meaningful dialogue that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Police Squad. At best Woods is workmanlike and efficient, excelling much more in the action and scenes of high drama and menace, but the story on display here needed a more astute director to bring it all together and give it the cohesive dark energy that both its premise and its star deserves. Yes, I'm sorry to say anyone hoping for Red Riding here will be sorely disappointed. I know I was.
To be fair to the director though, the production clearly had a terribly thin budget, and whilst other 70s set era films would go to town with extensive period detail and an expensive classic soundtrack from the rock and pop gods of the day, this is beyond the reach of Harrigan, which has to evoke its period setting through charity shop clobber, night shooting and Crazy Horses by The Osmonds. I also suspect some heavy and ill advised editing has made it lose a little of its focus. And it's a shame too that despite the specifics of the inflation hit, power saving, strike heavy early 70s there's actually little examination of the social or political context; with one vignette featuring a vilified scab driven to crime shockingly featuring much of his motivation explained off screen.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect however comes from the fact that the events of 1974 aren't all that different to the events occurring right here and now in the UK of 2015. Funding for the police is at an all time low and only yesterday a dispassionate Theresa May informed the police federation that they must stop 'crying wolf' and prepare for more cuts, citing the falling crime figures as reason enough to excuse these budgetary restrictions. In many ways Harrigan could have served as a warning from history if it wanted to aim higher and be more than a standard mildly enjoyable British B movie.